Ole Gunnar Solskjaer singled out Scott McTominay for special praise after Manchester United’s Europa League final defeat to Villarreal and felt the ‘outstanding’ midfielder was comfortably the standout player on the pitch. Edinson Cavani cancelled out Gerard Moreno’s soft opener to drag United back into the contest and take the game to extra time but Solskjaer’s men came up short in Wednesday night’s epic penalty shootout, with David de Gea’s decisive spot-kick saved by Geronimo Rulli. Bruno Fernandes has seemingly carried the Red Devils at times this season both domestically and in Europe and the Portuguese will have been desperate to prove himself on the grandest stage after contributing five goals and four assists en route to the final. But Villarreal head coach Unai Emery successfully nullified the threat of both Fernandes and Paul Pogba, with an inspired McTominay outshining his high-profile team-mates in the middle of the park at Gdansk Stadium.
Asked if he was disappointed his supposed big players failed to deliver, Solskjaer told reporters: ‘You know you’ve got players with high quality there. We started with loads of goalscorers and match-winners and we felt and hoped that was going to give us the upper hand. ‘We just couldn’t get the first goal and I’m disappointed that we conceded with our first chance and their only shot on target, that’s disappointing of course. ‘After we scored we pushed on for about 5-10 minutes and it looked like the game was there for us but then we just couldn’t kick on. ‘I thought Scott McTominay was absolutely outstanding out there. He was, for me, the best player on the pitch.’
United had already secured Champions League qualification with a second-placed finish in the English top flight but Solskjaer brushed off suggestions the season should be deemed a success. ‘No, it’s not a successful season of course,’ the United head coach said. ‘And that’s the small margins in football. Sometimes one kick can define a season as a good one or as a successful one and one kick says it’s not. ‘Improvement, yeah, second in the league which nobody expected after the lack of pre-season we had but the boys have been really good. ‘They just came up short tonight unfortunately and that’s on penalties and we could have been sat here saying it was a successful season after the same game. ‘Trophies matter and that’s what matters at this club so “no” is your short answer.’
The Norwegian was keen to applaud the contribution of his squad across their gruelling campaign but argued that ‘two or three’ new additions in the summer transfer window will help the club go ‘even further’ next term. ‘I’ve been delighted with the effort, desire, determination of all the players,’ he added. ‘I can’t fault them at all and we’ve probably done as well as anyone could imagine. ‘We who are here now need to do better, work harder, be cleverer.
But as I’ve said, two or three players to strengthen the starting XI and the squad altogether is important for us to go even further. ‘Because I’m sure our contenders and challengers.’