Man Utd: Solskjaer 'quietly confident' before Europa League final
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will lead the Premier League giants into their first major European final since 2017 as they face Villarreal tonight, and must do what rivals Arsenal and Liverpool have failed to do in the past 16 years – beat a Spanish team on the big stage.
United won 2-0 against Ajax in the 2017 final under former manager Jose Mourinho.
However, the Red Devils find themselves under pressure ahead of the showdown in Gdansk with Solskjaer bidding to secure his first trophy as United boss.
The Norwegian has steered the club to back-to-back op four finishes in the Premier League since 2018.
But he tasted defeat in his only major final in charge as United lost 1-0 to Chelsea in the 2018 FA Cup final.
United head into the final on the back of finishing second in behind rivals Manchester City in the 2020/21 Premier League table but Unai Emery’s Villarreal will pose a real challenge in Poland.
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Emery is the most successful coach in the history of the reformatted competition with three titles during his time at Sevilla.
Despite the Yellow Submarine missing out on a Europa League spot via La Liga in 2020/21, and tonight’s game being their first-ever major final appearance, Spanish sides hold a formidable record in European finals since 2000.
From the start of the 2000/01 season there has been a Spanish representative in 10 of the 20 Champions League finals up to the end of 2019/20, including two all-La Liga affairs between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
That statistic increases to 11 appearances in the Europa League final since 2000, with Sevilla vs Espanyol in 2007 and Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in 2012 as two all-Spanish ties.
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Within those games, La Liga has reigned supreme, with nine wins from 10 in the Champions League and 10 from 11 in the Europa League.
That record of dominance is even stronger against English opposition in finals as United fans know all too well.
In four Champions League finals since 2000, Spain has a 4-0 record over England, with Barcelona’s win over Arsenal in 2006 followed by two La Blaugrana victories over United, in 2009 and 2011.
Real Madrid kept the reign in Spain going in 2018 as they overcame Liverpool with a 3-1 win in Kiev.
The Europa League has followed a similar pattern of consistency for Spanish clubs against their English counterparts.
Sevilla’s 2006 win over Middlesbrough kickstarted a run of three final wins as Atletico Madrid edged out Fulham in 2010 and Emery’s Sevilla beat Liverpool in 2016.
Those numbers shine a light on the task ahead of United as they bid to become the first English side to beat a Spanish club in a European final since Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool memorably fought back to beat Deportivo Alaves 5-4 in 2001 UEFA Cup.
The 2000-01 season marked the last time Spanish clubs tasted defeat in a major European final as Bayern Munich also beat Valencia on penalties in the Champions League final.
History beckons for Solskajer on a high-stakes night, as victory would break two decades of Premier League frustration against La Liga and make him the first player to win a European title as a player and a manager at United.
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