How Villarreal prepared for Gdansk
Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League final opponents Villarreal had a dramatic and disappointing end to their domestic campaign on Saturday.
The Yellow Submarine were given as much preparation time for the final in Gdansk as possible, as La Liga moved seven of the games of the final league round back 24 hours.
The season finale in Spain was quite a spectacle, as both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were able to win the league on the final day. It was also a tense battle between Villarreal, Real Sociedad and Real Betis for the two Europa League spots.
Unfortunately for Unai Emery’s side, it ended in dismay. Villarreal were seventh going into the game and needed to better their rivals' result. The Yellow Submarine took the lead against the title-chasing Blancos in the 20th minute, through Yeremi Pino.
However, fortunes would turn for the Yellow Submarine late on. Zinedine Zidane’s men fought back with two quick-fire goals in the final moments to win the match. First, Karim Benzema equalised in the 87th minute before Luka Modric wrapped up three points for the capital side in injury time.
"We were winning until the end and then it all changed in a few minutes," Emery told the club's website post-match.
"The main aim, which was the Europa League, has been lost. The key was in January and February. The disappointment isn’t for today’s game, the opposite. This match has helped us ahead of Wednesday’s final, when we will fight for a title and a big prize, which is the Champions League."
In the end the result didn't matter as Real Betis fought back from two goals down to win 3-2 over Celta Vigo, while Real Sociedad beat Osasuna 1-0 thanks to an 86th-minute winner from Alexander Isak.
The results meant Villarreal finished the season in seventh place, outside the Europa League spots. However, that does not mean they will not be without continental football next campaign. They have qualified for the UEFA Europa Conference League, commencing next season and could face Tottenham Hotspur in the competition, who qualified following their seventh-place finish in the Premier League.
As Emery mentioned in his interview, the La Liga side also have a chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League, should they beat United in Wednesday’s Europa League final in Gdansk.
In terms of team news, Emery is still hopeful that winger Samuel Chukwueze and defender Juan Foyth, on loan from Spurs, could feature. The duo were injured in their semi-final tie with Arsenal, which they won 2-1 on aggregate.
Captain Mario Gaspar will be Foyth's likely replacement should the Argentinian defender remain unavailable. Former Spurs and Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue can play again after suspension, but Vicente Iborra, who used to play for Leicester City, is out for the long-term.