Villarreal can deliver another hammer blow to Man United tonight

PETE JENSON: Familiar foes Villarreal can deliver another hammer blow to Manchester United tonight… and it is Unai Emery’s big chance to prove he was right to reject Newcastle’s riches to stay in Spain

  • Manchester United head to Villarreal for crunch Champions League fixture
  • Group F remains delicately poised as Michael Carrick leads the team in Spain
  • They come up against a Villarreal side who beat them in Europa League final
  • Manager Unai Emery had his head turned by the offer of the Newcastle job
  • But he was persuaded to stay at Villarreal and continue taking them forward
  • However, progress on the domestic front has been slow for a profligate team 

Unai Emery would have been preparing to visit his old club Arsenal next weekend, had he accepted Newcastle’s offer at the start of the month.

Instead he is plotting a way past Manchester United in an attempt to guide Villarreal into the knockout stages of the Champions League for only the third time in the club’s history.

It was a win-win for him when Newcastle came calling: either he accepted the riches on offer or stuck with the Champions League challenge. 

Unai Emery rejected the offer of riches at Newcastle in order to continue in the Villarreal job

Emery loves the Europa League, with Villarreal beating Man United on penalties in Gdansk last season, but he’d love to lead them into the Champions League knockouts this term

How Champions League Group F looks with two rounds of fixtures left to be completed

Villarreal reached the semi-finals of the competition in 2006 and, having won them their first ever trophy last summer, Emery wants to emulate Manuel Pellegrini’s achievement 15 years ago.

They came close to taking something from Old Trafford last month, denied a point by a 95th-minute goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. 

That meant their two games against Young Boys took on added importance and the second match three weeks ago could have gone badly when preparations were hit by Emery’s seemingly imminent departure.

There was no doubt his head was turned. Villarreal players began to speak among themselves about the possibility they would be losing their coach and the club’s president Fernando Roig was braced for his departure.

The 74-year-old Ceramics magnate, who bought the club 24 years ago when it was in the second division and no one outside of Spain had heard of it, had set up a conference call with various international media on the morning of the Young Boys home game.

Paco Alcacer scored for Villarreal in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford back in September

But they were left stunned when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his winner in the 96th minute

Commendably he didn’t cancel the commitment and instead told reporters: ‘I don’t know anything about it,’ when asked about Emery and Newcastle.

‘Nobody has said anything. There has been no communication, nothing. I don’t know where the story came from.’

It soon became clear to him that the man who he signed to win Villarreal’s first piece of silverware was very short odds to be on the training ground introducing himself to Newcastle players the following morning.

Emery told his players to focus on the game and nothing else, and after they won 2-0 he admitted in his post-match TV interview that Newcastle had shown an interest, hinting that they now needed to talk to Villarreal.

He had already had a 50-minute meeting with the club’s chief executive Fernando Roig Negueroles (the president’s son) and he then drove home to nearby Valencia from Villarreal. 

That journey takes about 50 minutes and on the car phone, talking again with Roig Jnr, he decided to stay.

Villarreal celebrate scoring at Celta Vigo last weekend but they are lacking consistency 

He didn’t like the pressure he had been put under on a match day. He was not happy that the story was out in England and that it was dominating a big Champions League night. 

And so Roig Jnr didn’t find it that difficult to talk him into staying put.

Emery now needs to make what was one of the biggest decisions in his managerial career seem like the right choice.

Villarreal need to build on winning last season’s Europa League and thrive at home and abroad. For the moment Emery has not been able to achieve that.

Villarreal’s domestic season is stuck in a loop. Game after game they do enough to win but don’t. It’s now seven draws and they are 12th, 10 points off the Champions League positions.

They dominated Celta Vigo on Saturday but from 18 shots they scored only once and when keeper Gero Rulli couldn’t hold Fran Beltran’s shot, Brais Mendes scored the equaliser.

In the end, Emery’s team had to settle for a point in Vigo as they often have this season

In Europe things have been different. Doing the double over Young Boys has left them second, two points clear of third-placed Atalanta with two games left to play.

The belief is that their strength lies in how well they play knockout football and if they can get into the second phase they could go deep into the competition, especially under cup king Emery, who has reached five Europa League finals with three different teams, lifting the trophy four times.

It will not be easy for all that United are in turmoil. Villarreal are still missing their talisman Gerard Moreno, who scored in the Europa League final, and he could be joined on the sidelines by Etienne Capoue, Paco Alcacer and Netherlands international winger Arnaut Danjuma, who is having a fine season since moving to La Liga from Bournemouth.

They all missed the weekend draw as did Spain winger Yeremy Pino, who is also someway short of full fitness.

They also feel that playing United in the first game after the managerial change will make it even harder for them.

Spanish midfielder Dani Parejo is wary of a bounce back from United after their recent woes

‘When this kind of thing happens the good players respond and produce their best,’ said captain Dani Parejo, who after many years at Valencia knows a thing or two about what happens when a coach leaves.

If Villarreal win on Tuesday night then the town of 50,000 can pretty much celebrate making it out of the group.

And Emery can feel that little bit more justified about his decision to turn down that move to Newcastle.




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