No manager has won the Europa League as many times as Villarreal manager Unai Emery. Indeed, the Spaniard has made the competition his own, winning it three years in succession between 2014 and 2016 with Sevilla. At Arsenal, Emery also made the Europa League final, underlining the affinity he has for a trophy some others are guilty of being snobby about.
Emery could finish this season by getting his hands on his favourite piece of silverware for a fourth time. Under the 49-year-old’s stewardship, Villarreal have one foot in the semi-finals of the Europa League, after sealing a 1-0 win the first leg of their quarter-final showdown with Dinamo Zagreb. The Yellow Submarine is rising to the surface.
Most see Arsenal and Manchester United as favourites to go all the way in the Europa League this season, despite the former making things typically difficult against a Slavia Prague side who have already knocked out two British teams in Leicester and Rangers this season. On the quality of their squads alone, they certainly appear to be the strongest sides left in the competition. Arsenal and United should at least make the semi-finals. Ajax and Roma, paired together in the final eight, are also fancied by some.
Villarreal and Unai Emery, however, cannot be discounted as challengers. Emery’s side are currently on a six game winning run in all competitions with their 3-0 away win over Granada, who were beaten 2-0 by Manchester United in Thursday’s Europa League quarter final first leg, a demonstration of all they offer.
Gerard Moreno struck a hat trick in that victory, fresh from scoring for Spanish during the international break. There are more illustrious, more glamorous forwards in La Liga, but the 28-year-old is extremely effective at putting the ball in the back of the net having scored 19 times in 24 league appearances this season. Moreno also has four Europa League goals.
There is certainly no lack of creativity and invention in Emery’s team. Dani Parejo, widely considered one of Spain’s best playmakers for a number of years, swapped Valencia for Villarreal last summer while Manu Trigueros, who has five league assists this season, is a key figure in the centre of the pitch.
Etienne Capoue pitched up at the Estadio de la Ceramica from Watford in the January transfer window and has quickly given Unai Emery the sort of midfield controller and protecter he was previously lacking at Villarreal. The experienced Frenchman will be central to their chances of winning the Europa League for the first time.
Carlos Bacca, Francis Coquelin, Mario Gaspar, Moi Gomez, Sergio Asensjo, Paco Alcacer, Samuel Chukwueze – Villarreal’s squad is packed full of proven performers at La Liga level. This is without even mentioning Pau Torres, the Spain international who is reportedly on Manchester United’s radar in their search for a new centre back this summer. Villarreal’s only concern with Torres might be keeping hold of him for next season.
Whether or not he was to blame, Emery was never able to fully demonstrate his qualities as a coach and a leader during his time at Arsenal. The Spaniard became something of a figure of derision and fun in the Premier League, but his record in Spain and Europe speaks for itself. The way Emery has built another quality side since leaving North London says a lot about his ability as a manager.
Unai Emery knows how to navigate the latter rounds of the Europa League better than any other coach and through that Villarreal have an advantage over the rest of the teams left in the competition this season. The sight of the 49-year-old with the trophy in his hands once again this May is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
You could earn up to £100 (or currency equivalent) in bonus funds by joining Colossus with our New Player Bonus. Click here to join the action.