David de Gea failed to save any of Villarreal’s 11 penalties before missing from the spot himself as United suffered heartbreak in a dramatic shootout. The result capped a season of highs and lows as United finished second in the Premier League, well shy of winners Manchester City.
Asked if his team was ready to win trophies next season, Solskjaer said: “We’re getting closer and closer and better. We were one kick away today from having a trophy and a good night, but we’ve got to have the desire to come back next year and make sure we improve, get better. The only way to get the margins on your side is to work harder and better.”
Solskjaer told BT Sport his players were “quiet” as they digested defeat.
“It’s a disappointed dressing room,” he said. “That’s football for you. Sometimes it’s decided on one kick, that’s the difference between winning and losing sometimes. We’ve got to learn from that one, got to not savour this feeling, but taste this feeling and make sure you don’t get it again.
“No, it’s not a successful season, of course, and that’s the fine margins in football. Sometimes one kick can define a season as a good one or a successful one, or one kick says it’s not.
“Improvement, yeah. Second in the league, probably nobody expected us to be second in the league after the start we had, after the lack of pre-season we had.
“But the boys have been really, really good and just came up short tonight, unfortunately. That’s on penalties. We could have been sat here saying it’s been a successful season after the same game.
“But trophies matter and that’s what matters at this club.”
United forward Marcus Rashford promised United would bounce back strongly from the disappointment next season.
“We have to get rid of the disappointment and after that we need to look back at the game and see what we’ve done wrong and where we can improve,” he told BT Sport.
“All I can say is the team will not give up, there is no chance this team gives up. The manager will not give up, he will not allow us to give up. We will come next season with a bigger desire.
“People say a lot about Manchester United they are going downhill, blah blah blah.
“But, for me, the desire, the hunger, the talent, the ability of the squad – we have everything to compete at the highest level. We just have to show it to the world and show it to ourselves.
“Just because we lost today – I promise the fans we don’t give up. There is no chance we give up. We are close but close is not good enough. We have to be there.”
Speaking in the studio after the match, former United defender Rio Ferdinand said the season showed positive signs, but ultimately the team failed in their objective.
“If you look at it as a whole, as a season, they’ve improved from where they were last season,” Ferdinand said. “You can see the trajectory is going in the right direction slowly but surely. This was an opportunity to form part of a winning culture at the football club and that was the acid test tonight and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team failed. You have to put it bluntly, it’s a fact.
“You’re trying to create a winning culture, you’re trying to create an environment where you can see the players are becoming that unit and that team that are accustomed to playing in these situations. They didn’t get the job done. You get to a final, you’re there to win it and that’s it. If you don’t, to be brutal about it, it is a failure in that sense.”