Europa League final: Five things we learned as Manchester United lose to Villarreal on penalties

Manchester United have lost the Europa League final on penalties.

Here is a look at five things we learned from the game…

United lost

Ultimately in a cup final, the only aspect which really matters is the result.

It was not looking good after 45 minutes, with United a goal down. Edinson Cavani then pulled a goal back in the second half and the final went to extra-time.

After that a nervous game played out and United came up short after a nerve-wracking shootout.

This was a major disappointment, and a deflating moment. The game finished 1-1 at full-time, with United losing 11-10 on penalties.

Solskjaer picked the team fans wanted but faces questions

The cautious decision would have been for Ole to select Fred alongside Scott McTominay.

Instead Solskjaer dropped Fred, and played Paul Pogba in central midfield, a popular pre-game decision.

This allowed Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to both start the game, giving United extra potency in attack.

The result was an open game of football, with United pressing high and moving the ball up the pitch quickly, but this took a lot out of the players.

By the end, Solskjaer’s decisions left a lot to be desired. He was too late to make changes and played for penalties with his uninspired substitutions, and lost.

Photo by MAJA HITIJ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Set piece woe

Defending set pieces has been an ongoing problem for Manchester United all season.

So it was no surprise to see United concede from a soft free-kick. Gerard Moreno ghosted in between Victor Lindelof an Eric Bailly as if they weren’t there and scored far too easily.

The instant narrative from BT’s commentators pointed to Harry Maguire’s absence as a contributing factor in the goal.

But this ignores the fact Maguire has played most games this season in which United have conceded soft free-kick goals too, with Everton, AC Milan, and the cup semi-final loss to City three of several examples.

This is a coaching problem which needs to be fixed, and the need for a new centre-back has also increased.

Photo by Adam Warzawa – Pool/Getty Images

Edinson Cavani is United’s star

Cavani was everywhere all night, chasing down Villarreal’s attacks, and providing a danger inside the Villarreal box.

It was fitting that the Uruguayan scored United’s equaliser, early in the second half to his team a lift. It was his sixth Europa League goal in five games.

Cavani played like he was 24 not 34, and he has become this team’s talisman.

This could have been Cavani’s farewell game. Thankfully he has extended his contract and will be sticking around for at least one more season.

Big improvement required

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must wait for his big moment.

A season of progression ends on a sour note after a cup final defeat.

There is plenty of work to do, starting in the transfer market this summer.

Tonight was a sign that United are still not good enough when it really matters.

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