All 20 outfield players converted their penalties in the longest shootout in a final of any Uefa competition, and in an increasingly tense stadium Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli blasted home his effort and then denied De Gea, who was crestfallen at the end.
It gave Villarreal a first major trophy in their history and saw former Arsenal boss Unai Emery lift the Europa League for an unprecedented fourth time.
However, on the anniversary of both Sir Matt Busby’s birth and the epic Champions League final in 1999 that earned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hero status among the Old Trafford faithful, there was to be no new 26 May landmark as United complete a fourth year without silverware.
United simply did not do enough, despite the massive gulf in transfer fees and salaries between the two clubs.
Solskjaer’s side did not start well and fell behind to a soft goal from Gerard Moreno.
Edinson Cavani dragged United level 10 minutes into the second period after a Marcus Rashford shot had been deflected into his path, but United failed to build on that momentum and by the end Solskjaer was introducing Juan Mata and Alex Telles purely to take penalties in the shootout.
Both players scored. Although given De Gea had failed to save any of the previous 21 penalties he had faced, maybe Solskjaer should have followed the example of former United boss Louis van Gaal, who famously brought on Tim Krul purely for a shootout at the 2014 World Cup, which the Netherlands went on to win.
The brutal truth is, having gone with his strongest offensive starting XI, there was no-one on the bench Solskjaer felt confident could improve the situation.
In Cavani and Mason Greenwood, two of United’s best performers were attackers. But Rashford had a poor game, which was summed up by the England man failing to convert when Greenwood had given him a clear sight at goal.
Any goal would have been ruled offside but Rashford was not to know that as his scuffed effort rolled wide.
Scott McTominay’s midfield industry outshone both Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, who both flitted in and out of the game without producing anything truly remarkable.
United’s penalty shootout woes – the stats
- Villarreal are the first side to win in their first appearance in a major European final since Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2008-09 Uefa Cup.
- Manchester United have lost six of their last seven penalty shootouts in all competitions, only winning against Rochdale in the League Cup in September 2019 in that time.
- Villarreal boss Unai Emery is the first manager to win either the Uefa Cup or Europa League four times, surpassing Giovanni Trapattoni.
- Villarreal became the 13th side in Europe’s big five leagues to hit the 100-goal milestone in all competitions this season (100).
- The three shots on target produced in the game (one for Villarreal and two for Manchester United) was the lowest tally in a Europa League final since Porto v Sporting Braga in 2011 also saw just three.
- Gerard Moreno netted his 82nd goal in all competitions for Villarreal, joining Giuseppe Rossi as the club’s all-time top-scorer.
- Moreno became the first player to score 30+ goals for Villarreal in a single season in all competitions since Giuseppe Rossi in 2010-11 (32).
- Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European final for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the Uefa Cup final versus Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12
- Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani has scored 16 goals in his last 11 starts in the Europa League.
- Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood made his 52nd appearance this season in all competitions, the joint-most of any teenager with a team from Europe’s big five leagues along with Barcelona’s Pedri.