Terry Gibson gives the lowdown on Villarreal
Former-Manchester United striker Terry Gibson has provided detailed insight into Wednesday night's opponents, Villarreal.
Now a Spanish football pundit for La Liga TV, Gibson joined the MUTV Group Chat to give the lowdown on the Yellow Submarine ahead of the Europa League Final.
Although United comfortably dispatched two La Liga sides already in this season's competition - Real Sociedad and then Granada - Gibson insists that Villarreal are a level above and must be respected.
"Even in Spain, Manchester United are regarded as favourites because of the history of the club and Villarreal are seen very much as underdogs," Gibson explained. "But they're not to be taken lightly.
"They're a very good team. Going all the way to the final has probably cost them a place or two in La Liga, to be honest. I think the extra games has weighed on them."
In their final league fixture before the final, Villarreal succumbed to two late Real Madrid goals, losing 2-1 to the eventual runners-up.
"The weekend was a blow to them and that will give them extra motivation," said Gibson, who played 27 times for United.
"If they beat United, they'll go in the Champions League, otherwise they'll be in the Europa Conference League.
"I regard them as very similar to Real Sociedad, but the big difference is they have two better central defenders than Real Sociedad. They have a better manager too."
One of the key battle-grounds in Wednesday's fixture will be United's youthful and threatening frontline against a well-organised and compact Villarreal defence, the stand-out player in which is Pau Torres.
"He's the real deal," Gibson said.
"I understand why United are linked with him. He has all the attributes. He's aggressive, strong, fast, great on the ball and he's benefited from two years playing alongside Raul Albiol. The partnership has developed. When Albiol came back from Napoli to Spanish football, you thought he might be past his best but he's barely missed a game in two years. Torres's game has come on at a much quicker pace because he's played alongside Albiol.
"He's got all the attributes you need to be a top player and I'm not surprised in the slightest that United are linked with him."
As for what we can expect from Villarreal in Gdansk, Gibson explained that the Spanish side will focus on being compact first, denying United space in which to work in, and then focus on their own strengths.
"They're a possession-based team," Gibson began.
"I expect Villarreal to sit deep and not commit too many players; they'll be compact. When they're out of possession, they'll drop deep and I don't think they'll press high. They are capable of keeping possession for long spells because technically, they're all really good players.
"Manu Trigueros is a central midfielder who can play wide but is not a winger. The classic Villarreal style is for four central midfielders to play, the full-backs to push on, and Unai Emery has adhered to that classic Villarreal style, but not always sticking to the traditional 4-4-2 that they've always played with.
"He has a better plan and it's the reason they brought him. The club is steeped in playing 4-4-2, including the youth teams, they play 4-4-2 with a narrow midfielders. But Unai Emery was brought in to take them a step further and that means he's been given a license to stray from that classic 4-4-2. He'll look at the best way that he sees fit to stop Manchester United.
"I think he can be a little bit negative. Against Arsenal, they were running away with it in the first half of the first leg, but at half-time, he took off a centre-forward and they defended for three halves of football. He's a cautious coach, but he'll be looking in the most minute detail on how he can stop United. If you're an underdog, that's what you have to do."
Beyond the line-ups and tactical battles, Gibson thinks the first goal will be utterly crucial in deciding Wednesday's final.
"I think United win but I think it's going to be really close," he predicted.
"The first goal is critical. If Villarreal get it, it'll be difficult. If United can get that first goal, then it takes away that cautious approach that Unai Emery will have and they could run away with it but if Villarreal get it, I think United will find it hard to equalise and go on and win."