Edinson Cavani called off Gerard Moreno’s strike in the first half to equalize United in a rain-soaked Gdansk.
The Premier League side were lucky enough to win the trophy, but Marcus Rashford chomped at his lines just nine yards from goal – a failure that “will give him nightmares” according to former England international Dean Ashton.
The extra time passed without incident, with Villarreal growing more confident, before each outfield stepped up and finished 12 yards away.
Responsibility fell on the goalkeepers and, after smashing the ball into the roof of the net, Geronimo Rulli jumped low to his left to prevent De Gea’s strike.
As the ‘yellow submarine’ players dropped to their knees in celebration and Unai Emery prepared to lift his fourth Europa League trophy, the United squad wondered if.
The lack of urgency on the part of the players and Solskjaer himself – who made very few changes before the end of the 120 minutes – was somewhat baffling and ultimately cost the besieged and defeated fallen giants.
Villarreal took the lead when Edinson Cavani knocked down Gerard Moreno after trying to spot and help the defensive effort.
Still, the veteran Uruguayan gave a free kick and Dani Parejo found Moreno in the box with a delicious free kick, which the Spaniard deftly pushed to compatriot David De Gea, but Dean Ashton was not happy with the defense. United.
“Luke Shaw, I’m sorry you lost your man,” Ashton said of the commentary duty for talkSPORT. “Lindelof doesn’t even turn around to see where the danger is!”
“With those free kicks, it’s not good to fall without spotting a yellow shirt.
“Make sure you have a good body angle and make sure no one is crossing you. In that sense, the defense was very, very poor.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a frustrated figure on the sideline in Gdansk, well aware he had to resort to tactics to bring his United side back into the game after falling behind.
And it was Cavani who fixed his mistake, finding the back of the net again after Marcus Rashford’s volley effort fell on the striker in the penalty area and he did the rest.
Unai Emery could feel the tide changing and pounced on Francis Coquelin after just an hour for Carlos Bacca – perhaps an indication of his intentions to hold on to what he had.
Rashford had the opportunity to instantly penalize this Tory replacement, but he somehow skewed his effort after a magnificent assist from Bruno Fernandes.
“It will give him nightmares,” he said. “The only thing I would say is that the goalie did very well.
“It means Rashford has to make a decision – is he lifting it or is he going to turn the corner?” He ends up hitting him with the bottom of the studs, a lack of concentration at a vital moment.
It would have been the 100 for the England internationale goal for the club and the country since he broke into that same competition in 2016 under Louis van Gaal.
Paul Pogba has a chance of potentially winning the game, but he shot a header over the bar, which Ashton felt the World Cup winner should have done more with.
He said, “He’s just wrong; he’s trying to put too much power on it. He should try to glance at it, instead he just throws it over.
The last Europa League final to go into extra time was in 2014, when a Sevilla side under Emery managed to defeat Benfica on penalties.
Solskjaer’s insistence on not using his bench – even in the first half of extra time – seemed to cost the Premier League side dearly as Villarreal began to gain a foothold in the game against their leggy opponents.
The Norwegian decided to bring in Fred for Mason Greenwood in a move that seemed to make little sense, with their Spanish opponents growing more confident as the game headed for penalties.
As Emery gathered his Villarreal troops into a tight little squad ahead of the start of the second half of extra time, it seemed like there was a palpable sense of belief flooding the LaLiga roster.
Neither team did enough for half an hour and the game ended in a penalty shootout, with United knocking out Pogba in the second stanza.
“It’s absolute nonsense because everyone is so scared,” Ashton remarked of the overtime, with those in the rain in Gdansk unlikely to disagree.
After each outfield player scored his penalty, it fell to the goalkeepers. Geronimo Rulli sent the ball to the top corner, before saving David De Gea’s kick to secure an incredible 11-10 victory on penalties.
For the fourth time in his career, Emery has triumphed in this competition and Solskjaer’s trophy cabinet at Old Trafford remains vacant.