The occasion is set, Villarreal and Manchester United will battle it out for the right to be crowned UEFA Europa League Champions in a mouth-watering clash in Poland . But let’s look back at the Manchester clubs journey to the final starting all the way back at the beginning, the group stages, and going right the way to the final.
Manchester United originally started in the Champions League group stage and were drawn in the “group of death” alongside PSG, RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir. A group which many thought United wouldn’t advance from however, after an impressive start to the group they looked like clear favourites. The began their journey in Paris, a familiar setting for United, against the side favourites to advance as group winners. To everyone’s surprise United won in Paris again with a late Marcus Rashford winner giving United a 2-1 victory. A game against Rb Leipzig followed at Old Trafford which United comfortably dispatched the German side 5-0 with Marcus Rashford bagging his first ever hat trick for United. In Istanbul United were architects of their own downfall as poor lackadaisical defending let them down and they were embarrassed travelling home with a 2-1 defeat. The return fixture put United in good stead to qualify from the group after they dispatched Basaksehir 4-1 with some lovely goals which included a belter from Bruno Fernandes, leaving United needing a single point from two games to qualify for the knockout stages. The first of those two games came when PSG visited Old Trafford and completely outclassed United and played them off the park, Neymar was unplayable and with a brace helped PSG to a 3-1 win in Manchester. It all came down to the last game in Germany with The Red Devils needing to avoid defeat in Leipzig to advance, it got off to a horror start when they were 2-0 down at half-time. It got even worse when Justin Kluivert added a third, a late flurry from United wasn’t enough and they crashed out of the Champions League.
Round of 32 (Real Sociedad)
With Solksjaer’s men now entering the Europa League they were immediate favourites for the competition but were drawn against a fierce opponent in Real Sociedad, who had been on fine form in the first half of the La Liga season. The first leg however, was an absolute demolition fest in Spain with United thrashing Sociedad 4-0 with two goals from Bruno Fernandes, and one a piece from Marcus Rashford and Daniel James. It set United up to advance comfortably with the four away goals they had to take back to Old Trafford it seemed a simple task for The Red Devils. After a boring 0-0 draw in Manchester, United advanced to the last 32.
Round of 16 (AC Milan)
Into the Round of 16 and it was getting no easier for United as they were drawn against fellow favourites AC Milan who had seen somewhat of a revival this season in the Serie A. These two sides have had classic matches in the past with household worldwide names on show at Old Trafford and the San Siro, both sides these days in Europe’s second most prestigious competition, oh how the mighty have fallen. The first leg was played at Old Trafford and was a dull affair for both sides but it was finally set alight when youngster Amad Diallo scored a looping backwards header to give United the lead early into the second half. AC Milan left it late but deserved their equaliser and they got it when a corner was headed in by Simon Kjaer in the last minute, giving Milan the advantage going into the second leg. It was again another bore fest in Italy with both sides cancelling each other out until eventually a moment of individual brilliance by Paul Pogba gave United the lead and a foot into the quarter finals.
Quarter- Finals (Granada)
The Quarter-Finals pitted the Red Devils against dark horses Granada who had been quietly making their way through the rounds unnoticed but playing some extravagant football. Unfortunately for the Spaniard’s they were no match for United in either leg with the Reds running out 2-0 winners in England and Spain with goals from, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and an own goal by Jesus Vallejo. United now had a clear path to the final and knew that all that stood in their way was AS Roma, a side that had just dispatched a very good Ajax side to progress.
Semi-Finals (AS Roma)
It was a Semi-Final set to entertain, these two were no strangers to one an other and came out the blocks firing in the first leg. United took the lead at Old Trafford when a lovely move between Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes was finished by the Portuguese. It was a case of the blues for United however with awful defending causing them to give up two goals right before half time. The first an alleged handball by Pogba awarded the Italians a penalty which was dispatched by Lorenzo Pellegrini, then a simple passing move gave Edin Dzeko a tap in on the goal line after the United defence went to sleep. Roma went into the half leading but after only three minutes of the second half were pegged back immediately after a beautiful Edinson Cavani finish into the top corner. United regained their lead 15 minutes later when Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s shot was parried by the Roma goalkeeper right to the feet of Cavani who easily put the ball into an empty net. The floodgates then opened for United who were awarded a penalty when Chris Smalling was adjudged to have fouled Cavani inside the area, Bruno Fernandes slotted away the penalty for 4-2. It was 5-2 not long after when a corner routine met the head of Pogba who headed home United’s fifth and started to give them some serious breathing room, substitute Mason Greenwood put the icing on the cake when he ran through and finished superbly to make it 6-2 and put United all but into the final. I say all but because the second leg was just as entertaining as the first, United did take the lead in the 39th minute through Cavani but in the second half Roma were absolutely dominating them and managed to turn the game on its head and lead 2-1 with goals from Dzeko and Bryan Cristante. David De Gea has to be heralded for another world-class performance because he was making save after save to deny the Italian side. Cavani then did equalise to finally put the game to bed but Roma had the last laugh on the night with a lovely volley from youngster Nicola Zalewski beating David De Gea to give Roma the win on the night. Manchester United had done it, their journey to Gdansk is complete and their journey to finally winning a trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is only one game away.
Who will lift the Trophy?