Damning reality behind Manchester United's Europa League failure

·5-min read
Manchester United teammates are pictured here comforting David de Gea after the Europa League final.
Manchester United teammates consoled David de Gea after the penalty shootout defeat to Villarreal. Pic: Getty

Football fans have bombarded social media to call out David de Gea after the Manchester United goalkeeper's shocking penalty record came back to bite him in a heartbreaking Europa League final defeat to Villarreal.

The Spanish side won the first major trophy in the club's history after a dramatic penalty shootout victory in Poland that saw every player on the field - including both goalkeepers - step up to the spot.

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In a remarkable shootout in which all outfield players scored their penalties it came down to a sudden-death contest between the two keepers.

Geronimo Rulli ultimately saved de Gea's penalty at the end of a marathon shootout to secure a historic 11-10 triumph for the La Liga club.

The win gave Villarreal coach Unai Emery a record fourth title in the competition - three of them with Sevilla from 2014 to 2016 - and secured his side a return to the Champions League.

Defending set-pieces had been a problem for United and Gerard Moreno opened the scoring when all too easily meeting Dani Parejo's terrific free-kick.

Cavani levelled early in the second half after Marcus Rashford's volley fell kindly for him from close range and Villarreal clung on for extra-time, which Unai Emery's men edged before triumphing on penalties.

The shootout defeat was particularly tough on de Gea, who not only failed to save all 11 of Villarreal's spot-kicks, but also squandered his own.

Incredibly, the Manchester United keeper has now failed to save the last 36 penalties he's faced, in a horrific run that stretches back more than five years.

The last penalty de Gea managed to save was against former teammate Romelu Lukaku, when the striker was playing for Everton during an FA Cup semi-final clash in April, 2016.

Curiously, in that same period Manchester United's reserve keeper Dean Henderson - left on the bench for the final in Gdansk - has saved eight penalties.

Not surprisingly, De Gea's poor record of saving penalties dominated much of the post-match fallout on social media.

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Solskjaer's tactics under fire

De Gea was far from the only one to blame for a Manchester United side that failed to capitalise on their momentum after Cavani's second half equaliser.

Questions have and will surely continue to be asked of United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reluctance to use any substitutes over the entire 90 minutes, plus stoppage time.

When the manager did finally make his first change in extra time he brought defensive midfielder Fred on for industrious attacking talent, Mason Greenwood.

Speedsters Daniel James and Amad Diallo would likely have added another dimension in attack, as well as Dutch international Donny van de Beek - whose failure to feature in Solskjaer's plans continues to baffle fans. 

“I’ve been delighted with the effort, the desire, determination of all the players, you know, I can’t fault them at all,” the United manager said after the match.

“We’ve probably done as well as anyone could imagine so, yeah, we who are here now need to do better.

“We need to work better, work harder, cleverer, but, as I’ve said, two or three players to strengthen the starting XI and the squad altogether (is important).

“It’s important for us to go even further because I’m sure our contenders or challengers will also challenge to improve so we want to improve as much as we can.”

Pictured here, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still searching for his first trophy as Manchester United manager. Pic: Getty

It was a painful end to a promising season for United, who finished runners-up to Manchester City as they secured back-to-back top-four finishes for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

But Solskjaer knows that is not enough for the Old Trafford giants, who are still yet to win a trophy under the Norwegian manager.

“No, it’s not a successful season, of course, and that’s the fine margins in football,” he said.

“Sometimes one kick can define a season as a good one or a successful one, or one kick says it’s not.

“Improvement, yeah. Second in the league, probably nobody expected us to be second in the league after the start we had, after the lack of pre-season we had.

“But the boys have been really, really good and just came up short tonight, unfortunately.

“That’s on penalties. We could have been sat here saying it’s been a successful season after the same game.

“But trophies matter and that’s what matters at this club.”

with agencies

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