Unai Emery and Villarreal face all-or-nothing Europa League final against Manchester United

Spanish manager, who won the competition three times in a row with Sevilla, is confident in his side's chances

Unai Emery is aiming to lead Villarreal to their first European trophy since the 2004 Intertoto Cup. AFP
Unai Emery is aiming to lead Villarreal to their first European trophy since the 2004 Intertoto Cup. AFP

Major finals always carry with them plenty of pressure but for Villarreal and their manager Unai Emery, the stakes will be especially high when they face Manchester United in Gdansk on Wednesday night.

A 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid, courtesy of two late goals, on the last day of the season saw Villarreal slip to seventh in La Liga and out of the Europa League places. It means victory in the Europa League final will not only ensure the biggest trophy in the club's history but also a place in next season's Champions League.

A win would also ease the pressure on Emery, who took charge at Villarreal last summer after the club placed fifth in La Liga and was given the remit of leading the team forward. Defeat, meanwhile, will see Villarreal settle for a place in Uefa's new, and less lucrative, Europa Conference League.

They face a tough task against a much-fancied United side, but Emery is backing his side to upset the Premier League giants.

"We respect United but we think we're capable of winning this trophy," said Emery last week. "We are going to play with the confidence we've shown throughout the whole competition."

Emery knows what it takes to win the Europa League, having triumphed three times in a row with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016, the last time by beating Liverpool 3-1 in the final in Basel. He also reached the final two years ago with Arsenal, only to lose to Chelsea.

"Manchester United were the favourites from the start to win this tournament and they've managed to reach the final," said Emery, who leads Villarreal into their first European final since the winning the 2004 Intertoto Cup. "There were other teams who were favourites and haven't done that but we have always seen ourselves as a contender."

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Villarreal are also flying the flag for Spain as the one team that denied the English Premier League a clean sweep of European finalists, with Manchester City up against Chelsea in the Champions League final on Saturday.

If Villarreal defeat United, Spain will boast seven of the last 10 Europa League champions, the others belonging to Chelsea in 2013 and 2019, and United in 2017, when Jose Mourinho's side beat Ajax.

"The Premier League is dominating football in Europe," Emery said. "But to reach a final you always have to knock out big teams, or teams that have knocked out big teams themselves, like Dinamo Zagreb. Games like these are a challenge. They tell you what level your team is at."

Published: May 25, 2021 11:56 AM

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