Where did it all go wrong for Manchester United in the 2021 Europa League Final?

So it’s another trophyless season for Manchester United after Wednesday’s night's penalty shoot out defeat in the 2021 Europa League Final.

Manchester United weren't Good Enough

Plenty of fingers of blame are already being pointed in the press. But to put things simply - Manchester United weren't good enough to win the 2021 Europa League final.

People can blame manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics, injuries, the Glazers, etc. But these are just parts of the reasons why Manchester United aren’t good enough.

On the night, Villarreal had a game plan to stop United playing, and it worked. Pundits and fans alike will say Villarreal spoiled the game, and while that’s true, it’s also up to United to find a way to deal with that.

Highlights of Villarreal vs Manchester United in 2021 Europa League Final

The facts are that Manchester United weren’t good enough to find a way around Villarreal’s tactics. The best sides would have done so, and this shows Manchester United still aren’t one of the best sides.

Fernandes still has work to do to be compared with Eric Cantona

Pre match comparisons made about Bruno Fernandes and Eric Cantona also fell some way short of the mark. 

In a similar tight affair back in the FA Cup final of 1996, Cantona won the game against Liverpool with the one half chance that came his way. Cantona’s piece of brilliance was basically the difference between the two sides and won United the FA Cup.

Fernandes can only really be compared to Cantona when he does something similar. Which he couldn’t muster last night.

Is Solskjaer Managing with one arm tied behind his back?

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is also under fire for his tactics. He waited until the 100th minute before he made a change. But that was probably more down to the lack of quality on his bench.

If Manchester City find themselves in a similar position in the Champions League final, they can bring on Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling, at the very least. With the greatest of respect to these players, Fred and Daniel James aren’t anywhere near the same class.

One area I feel Solskjaer can be questioned about was his decision to change a formation that had been working well. The move to start with Cavani looked obvious at the time, but in hindsight did moving Pogba back to a more central role in place of Fred change the whole dynamic of the team? It also starved United of the option of having Mason Greenwood on the bench.

Lack of Squad Depth Played a Part

The lack of quality on the bench is where the Glazers fit into the equation. They are part of the reason why the squad isn’t strong enough. As is poor recruitment, and the lack of quality coming through the ranks at Old Trafford.

Yes, people will point at the likes of Rashford, Greenwood, McTominay and Henderson coming through the ranks, and that’s a fair argument. But are those players really enough? 

The benchmark I would judge them against, is how many of those players might be headhunted by better sides like Bayern Munich? Not many, is possibly the answer!.

Maybe with better recruitment alongside those players, they are enough. I suppose it can be argued either way.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claims he needs two or three players, and I wouldn't disagree. I don't think they are a million miles off, but the two or three players have to be top draw. They can't be squad players either. They need to be established internationals ready to hit the ground running.

Previous United Squads had more Depth

United’s lack of attacking options on the bench in this match, prompted me to look back at the Champions League finals of 1999 and 2008.

In 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson started with Cole and Yorke up front, leaving Sheringham and Solskjaer on the bench. 

While in 2008, Alex Ferguson started with Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez all on the pitch. His attacking options on the bench were Nani, Ryan Giggs and Anderson (if you can call him attacking).  

Last night, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t really have anyone. Yes, he was robbed of Anthony Martial by injury. But would his presence have made a huge difference? I’m not sure it would.

The long and short of it is, this squad simply isn’t good enough to regularly win trophies. At some point, United will pick up a pot of some sort. But as things stand, I don't see them competing with City in the long run.

Back in the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, a player like Cavani would have been a squad player. He would have been coming off the bench to join the attacking throng already throwing the kitchen sink at the opposition. In this Manchester United era, Cavani is the main man. And he's needed to be persuaded to stay on for an extra year! 

Let's be clear, as good as Cavani is, he is 34, and he's not the man you want to be planning your future around.

This is an example of how far United have fallen in recent years. And with the Glazers’ watchful eye on the purse strings, what United fans will have to continue to live with. 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.