Europa League Final: Steady Solskjaer eyes just reward for progress but European master Emery lies in wait

  Solskjaer and Emery will meet in the Europa League final. © Reuters Manchester United's decision to stick with occasionally under-fire...

 

Solskjaer and Emery will meet in the Europa League final. © Reuters

Manchester United's decision to stick with occasionally under-fire boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been rewarded with a European final, and a sign that he is best-suited to dragging the club from their post-Ferguson malaise.

On several occasions early in the Norwegian's tenure it had seemed that Solskjaer's walking papers were close to being issued. The inexperienced head coach, drafted in from his home country's league to fill the void left by Jose Mourinho when he was unceremoniously dumped from Old Trafford, enjoyed an immediate purple patch upon being installed as interim manager, winning 14 of his first 19 games in charge – after which he was rewarded with a permanent three-year contract.

His first full season in charge, though, wasn't quite as convincing. Solskjaer's honeymoon period came crashing to a halt amid accusations that his tactics had an over-reliance on counter-attacks, something which opposition managers appeared to figure out and which saw results stagnate and rumblings of #OleOut appear on social media. 

Solskjaer was backed by the United hierarchy even as the club suffered a dispiriting 6-1 home reverse to Mourinho's Spurs early in this season, and as they were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages.

Though, as the saying goes, when life hands you lemons...

United's early elimination from the Champions League ensured passage to Europe's secondary club competition, the Europa League, and on Wednesday evening in Gdansk Solskjaer will have an opportunity to add his name to the list of managers who have won silverware at Old Trafford amid the silverware drought which has characterized the famous club since legendary head coach Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013. 

For what seems like the first time since the club's best-ever manager walked away, United seem to be on solid ground. Solskjaer has progressed tactically and no longer seems flummoxed when opposing sides shut up shop on the periphery of the 18-yard box, and he has overseen the development of a glut of young talent – with 19-year-old forward Mason Greenwood's introduction to to the first-team squad direct evidence of this.

And while Solskjaer's transfer spending has had its ups and downs, few can deny the impact of Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes, whose signing in January 2020 coincided, or even catalyzed, the team's resurgence.

A tough task awaits them on the banks of Motlawa River in Gdansk on Wednesday evening, however, and for Solskjaer to raise his first significant trophy as Manchester United manager he will have to overcome Villarreal, and more pertinently, their manager, the Europa League specialist Unai Emery.

Emery has tasted success in the Europa League on three occasions. © Reuters

The Spanish boss will take charge of a team in the Europa League Final for the fifth time on Wednesday, after winning the trophy on three successive years with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016 while also reaching the final during his spell with Arsenal in 2019. 

Their La Liga position this year (they finished in seventh place) suggests that, on paper at least, United should be overwhelming favorites when the two sides take to the field on Wednesday evening, but Emery's experience in this particular competition shouldn't be underestimated. The Spaniards also know that victory will seal a Champions League spot for next season, something they failed to achieve with their domestic league campaign, and which adds yet more impetus for their meeting in Poland. 


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FotNetwork.com: Europa League Final: Steady Solskjaer eyes just reward for progress but European master Emery lies in wait
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