Manchester United are running out of excuses after Europa League final defeat

Man Utd will go four years without a trophy after they lost the Europa League final after a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Villar...

Man Utd will go four years without a trophy after they lost the Europa League final after a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Villarreal.


It was a sign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's confidence in Gdansk on Tuesday that he was happy to say Manchester United's season would be defined by what happened in that stadium 24 hours later.

By the time midnight struck in the pretty Polish city and Wednesday ticked into Thursday he might have regretted staking 60 games of work on the 61st and last, like a poker player going all-in only to see the cards turn against him.

Solskjaer hoped the Europa League would be lift-off for his young team, a taste of success that becomes addictive for the players.

But familiar flaws returned to haunt United. This is a team of nearly men and having exorcised one ghost by beating Roma in the semi-final, they simply succumbed at the final hurdle instead.

Solskjaer has pinned progress as his United mantra and a rise of eight points in the Premier League this season ticks that box, but it has to be concerning that his team keep putting themselves in a position to win trophies only to find the heat a little too intense when the pressure is on.

Four semi-final defeats and a quarter-final exit in two seasons were damning. After beating Roma United looked to have ended the semi-final curse, setting up a final that they should have won relatively comfortably. They beat Granada and Real Sociedad - two teams of not dissimilar calibre to Villarreal - 8-0 across four legs earlier in this competition, but on neutral territory in Gdansk they didn't do enough to lift the trophy and had only themselves to blame.

United can claim penalties are a lottery, which they are to a degree - although when your goalkeeper has now conceded more than 30 consecutive spot-kicks it should require a little deeper analysis - but they should never have let the game get this far.

This was an underwhelming 120 minutes from United, particularly the first half and the 30 minutes in extra-time. Solskjaer's substitutions came too late and too many key players didn't perform, which only adds weight to the claims that this is a team built around defining contributions from individuals rather than a cohesive unit. It was a game low on quality from the team with the most quality in their ranks.

United were passive in the first half, too slow in the build-up and flaky once again at the back. They improved in the second half but having got level they gradually let the momentum slide away from them. They never looked like going on to win the game in extra-time, which was one of the most dispiriting 30 minutes they've produced all season.

By now this United should have a trophy. Instead, they have gone four years without one and the pressure looks like it's weighing heavily on some shoulders.

It's not only those knockout exits that are leading us down a road to question the winning mentality of this team. They threw away a golden position in a difficult Champions League group before Christmas and got vertigo the moment they hit the front in the Premier League in January.

Now they have a painful defeat in a final to add to that catalogue of near-misses. The progress of this season has stalled at the last.

Solskjaer's job will remain safe after this defeat, as it rightly should, but his third full season at Old Trafford is going to be make-or-break. This summer he must find a reliable partner for Harry Maguire, settle on his best goalkeeper and add depth to this squad, but his in-game management can also sharpen up, as his use of substitutions in Gdansk revealed. They came too late and the wrong players made way.

One thing is for sure, the next time United are within a touching distance of a trophy they have to go and grab it. There can be no more excuses. For Manchester United four years without a trophy is an eternity. Five is unthinkable.

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