With rumours of an impending move to Barcelona continuing to swirl around Antoine Griezmann, the Atletico Madrid and France striker has even more motivation for Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Marseille.
After finals heartbreak in 2016, losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League final and then Portugal in the European Championship final, Griezmann wants to go out on a high if (as it seems) this will be his last week as an Atletico player.
The Los Rojiblancos are heavily favoured to win their third Europa League crown, following on from 2010 and 2012, but will it be third time unlikely for Griezmann?
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The Europa League final is set up as an intriguing battle between two vastly different sides. Diego Simeone‘s Atlético Madrid, with their relentless intensity and defensive nous come up against Rudi Garcia’s Marseille and their high-flying attack.
Simeone’s side are playing in their third European final in four years, and are thus rightly the favourites for Wednesday’s clash. For Garcia, it’s a chance for a first triumph since leading Lille to a league-and-cup double in 2011.
Here’s a look at the key tactical decisions each manager will be mulling.
VITOLO VS CORREA IS SIMEONE’S BIG CALL
Simeone has so many options with his midfield. Saul and Koke pick themselves, but after that, it could be any two of Gabi, Vitolo, Angel Correa or Thomas Partey. With Gabi, the question is one of experience vs age – the former is exactly what you want in a European final, but the latter could leave Atletico exposed against Marseille’s attack. It’s more likely that Partey starts, and then Simeone has to pick between Vitolo and Correa, each of whom started one leg of the Arsenal tie. Vitolo’s combativeness or Correa’s pace on the counter? The game could rest on that call.
GARCIA’S MIDFIELD HEADACHE
Garcia’s preferred formation means he has to pick between Maxime Lopes, Morgan Sanson, and Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa – a dilemma he has been facing all season. Lopes and Sanson got the nod in both legs of the semi-final against Salzburg, but Anguissa has usually been preferred to Sanson in the league, and has been a more consistent performer.
Both have their merits – Anguissa is better suited to handle Atlético’s physical game, while Sanson provides more attacking impetus against a Rojiblancos side that will, as always, defend first. Garcia will likely plump for Sanson again, but it’s a close call.
YOUTH VS EXPERIENCE FOR ATLÉTICO’S RIGHT-BACK SLOT
At 26, Sime Vrsaljko isn’t exactly what you’d call a young player – unless the competition is 33-year-old Juanfran. The veteran Spaniard is one of five holdovers from the Atlético team that won the 2012 Europa League final, and seems to have become Simeone’s first-choice right-back in recent weeks.
That must partly be down to Vrsaljko’s 10th-minute sending-off in the first leg of the semi-final. Simeone may have been incensed by the referee over that decision, but he can’t have been happy with the Croat’s recklessness, either. Juanfran will keep a cooler head – and against Marseille’s attack, that could prove vital.
Here we take a look at some key stats ahead of what promises to be an entertaining game of football.
– Simeone is the only non-European coach – indeed the only one from outside Spain and Portugal – to have won the UEFA Europa League.
– Atlético have not beaten a French club in France since September 1961, when they won 3-2 at Sedan in the first round of their triumphant European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign
– Marseille skipper Dimitri Payet has recorded seven assists in this season’s UEFA Europa League, the most in the competition.
– Marseille have been involved in four previous major UEFA competition finals, while Atlético Madrid will be competing in their ninth – and fifth in the past nine seasons.
– Marseille’s sole victory in four major UEFA competition final appearances came in the 1992/93 UEFA Champions League with a 1-0 win against Milan in Munich.
– Four players have scored twice in the fixture – Diego Forlán (Atlético) in 2010, Radamel Falcao (Atlético) in 2012, Carlos Bacca (Sevilla) in 2015 and Coke (Sevilla) in 2016; there has yet to be a hat-trick.
– This is the ninth UEFA Europa League final. The previous eight have yielded 21 goals at an average of 2.625 per game. The biggest winning margin was Atlético’s 3-0 win against Athletic Club in 2012