Europa League Team of the Season, starring Fernandes and Moreno
Villarreal were crowned Europa League champions on 26 May after defeating Manchester United in the final in Gdansk.
Led by competition specialist Unai Emery, the Yellow Submarine won the tournament 11-10 on penalties after Man Utd goalkeeper David de Gea missed his spotkick. This came after all the outfield players, and opposition goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, had scored.
It was not only Villarreal’s first ever European trophy, but their first trophy in their entire history.
The Spanish outfiit impressed throughout the tournament, so do any of their players make our Europa League Team of the Season?
Goalkeeper: Pau Lopez – Roma
Up until the semi-final tie against Manchester United, Pau Lopez had the best save percentage in the entire Europa League. Following his injury in the first leg, Roma would look decidedly (even more) shaky at the back and would go on to ultimately concede eight goals over the two legs.
In the quarter-final first leg against Ajax he was absolutely outstanding as Roma stole a 2-1 away victory. Against the Dutch giants he made no less than eight crucial saves including one from the penalty spot against Dusan Tadic.
Overall, he had five clean sheets in 12 matches.
Right-back: Juan Foyth – Villarreal
Ahead of the final between Man Utd and Villarreal, BT Sports pundit Paul Scholes invited Marcus Rashford to have the freedom of the pitch against Totenham loanee Juan Foyth, who so far hasn’t impressed in North London.
Instead, Foyth was superb at right-back and handled Rashford’s pace with composure and solidity, and this was after having his face burst open in the opening minutes.
Throughout the tournament he won 71% of his tackles, 68% of his aerial duels, and 69% of his ground duels.
Centre-back: Lisandro Martinez – Ajax
Lisandro Martinez may have only entered the competition in the knockout stage following Ajax’s demotion from the Champions League, but he helped the Dutch side reach the quarter-finals with a string of solid outings at the back.
He was particularly impressive in the 3-0 win against Young Boys as well as the aforementioned games against Roma.
In his six appearances, he won the majority of his tackles, aerial duels and ground duels, though the most impressive aspect of his game was his distribution as he completed 98.8 passes per game on average with a success rate of 92%.
Centre-back: Raul Albiol – Villarreal
Veteran defender Raul Albiol may have turned 35 in the 2020/21 campaign, but that didn’t stop him notching up the second-highest amount of minutes of any defender in the tournament this season, behind only Rangers defender Conor Goldson.
Albiol made 11 appearances totalling 1020 minutes and although he was key to Villarreal remaining undefeated throughout the entire tournament, his most influential performance came in the final.
Despite facing the attacking riches of the likes of Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes, Albiol organised the Villarreal defence fantastically and ensured everyone kept their heads.
Plus, his penalty in the shootout was arguably the coolest of the lot.
Left-back: Borna Barisic – Rangers
Rangers may have only made it to the last 16 stage, but Borna Barisic still made an excellent impact on the competition as he had featured for the Glasgow side throughout the qualification stage, too.
The Croatian scored three goals and recorded five assists throughout the campaign, which is more assists than any other full-back in the competition.
His starring moment came when he scored two penalties away at Antwerp.
Centre-midfield: Etienne Capoue – Villarreal
Never did it seem more likely a player would get sent off in a European final than Etienne Capoue against Manchester United.
After collecting a yellow card, the former Watford man continually threw himself into tackles, but crucially, he did this winning the ball most of the time which resulted in him staying on the pitch. This highlighted his commitment to the cause as he was a warrior in the final match of the tournament, ensuring United and Bruno Fernandes in particular never got much room in those central areas.
He averaged 1.9 interceptions and 6.6 ball recoveries, and was one of the best players in the tournament despite only signing for Villarreal from Watford in January.
Centre-midfield: Lo Celso – Tottenham
Under Jose Mourinho, Giovani Lo Celso was usually one of the players selected to play in the Europa League and he made the most of his chances, scoring four goals in six starts.
Of central midfielders who have played more than 500 minutes in the tournament this season, according to FootballCritic, Lo Celso has the highest average rating of 7.6 which is 0.4 points higher than second place.
He was left out of the starting XI for the round of 16 second leg against Dinamo Zagreb, which Spurs would go on to lose 3-0.
Attacking midfield: Bruno Fernandes – Man Utd
Bruno Fernandes only entered the Europa League after Man Utd were knocked out of the Champions League, but he still recorded some superb numbers, as he tends to do in general.
In nine starts in the Europa League he scored five goals and laid on four assists, which averages out to one goal contribution per game.
Fernandes was particularly outstanding in the semi-final first leg against Roma in which he scored two and set up a further two in a 6-2 victory.
Forward: Nicolas Pepe – Arsenal
Arsenal’s season may have been a disappointment overall, including their Europa League campaign as they were eliminated at the semi-final stage by eventual champions Villarreal.
But, Nicolas Pepe did all he could to try and gain some success in the competition as he was their star player, scoring six goals and assisting a further four in 13 appearances.
In the quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague he scored one and set up another and was one of Arsenal’s better players in the games against Villarreal as it was he who scored what turned out to be the consolation in the second leg.
Forward: Borja Mayoral – Roma
Throughout the 2020/21 season Borja Mayoral was competing for minutes in the centre-forward position with Edin Dzeko, as he started just seven matches in the Europa League.
He would actually become one of the tournament’s top scorers from the group stage onwards though as he scored seven goals in 659 minutes of football.
He started every game in the group stage and scored three goals, but he would only make one other start in the knockout stages.
Overall he came off the bench six times in the knockout stages and scored four goals.
Forward: Gerard Moreno – Villarreal
The best player of the whole Europa League campaign was probably Villarreal talisman Gerard Moreno, who opened the scoring in the final against Man Utd and also scored in the winning penalty shooutout.
Overall in the Europa League, he would score seven goals and record five assists in just nine starts – some remarkable numbers.
He scored at least one goal in every stage of the knockout rounds apart from the semi-final, including two against RB Salzburg and two against Dynamo Kyiv.
Moreno deserves a Champions League stage next.