FLORIAN THAUVIN v ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
Antoine Griezmann brings more than a sprinkling of stardust to the Atletico attack and despite a sluggish start to the season, the Frenchman has been revitalised since the turn of the year.
The 27-year-old’s speed, vision and spectacular ability to find the back of the net makes him a leading protagonist for the final. He played the role of talisman expertly in the semi-finals against Arsenal, scoring a late equaliser to secure 10-man Atletico a 1-1 draw at the Emirates before setting up the only goal in the return leg at the Wanda Metropoitano.
Destined to leave this summer, Griezmann will want to sign off with his first major trophy for the club.
Meanwhile, with a left-foot to rival Griezmann’s, Florian Thauvin will lead Marseille into battle against his compatriot.
The 25-year-old is a quick and tricky winger but it’s his finishing that has impressed this season. With 22 goals in Ligue 1 this term, Thauvin has emerged as a significant goal threat.
His trademark move involves him dropping his shoulder, cutting in from the right flank and curling efforts into the far corner, executing them with an unerring accuracy that Arjen Robben would be proud of.
It’s been a coming-of-age season for the attacker and starring in the Europa League final would be the perfect way to cap it.
DIMITRI PAYET v KOKE
Dimitri Payet was in scintillating form for West Ham and then France at Euro 2016 a couple of years ago and he’s continued to impress at Marseille.
The Frenchman is recognised as the best passer in Ligue 1. Only Neymar matches him with 13 assists in the league, while he’s out on his own for key passes with his 121 in 31 appearances dwarfing Benjamin Bourigeaud’s tally of 93 in 36 for Rennes.
Payet’s incisive defence-splitting passes create chances galore for Marseille, as does his quality delivery from set-pieces. His three assists over two legs against Salzburg were crucial to their victory in the semi-finals.
Koke on the other hand is a very different kind of midfield force but still of great importance to Atletico. With Saul Niguez a mainstay in central midfield, Koke’s versatility has seen him deployed on the left flank. However, the team’s compact shape means he is heavily involved in the midfield play.
The Spaniard has more responsibility in attack and defence from his wider role. His work-rate and ball-winning ability is key when Atletico soak up pressure from the opposition and having contributed directly to 11 goals across all competitions this season, he’s more than useful going forward.
LUIZ GUSTAVO v DIEGO GODIN
When Marseille acquired the services of Luiz Gustavo from Wolfsburg for a paltry €8 million (Dh34.8m), no one batted an eyelid but he has since emerged as one of the signings of the season in France.
The Brazilian’s tackling, reading of the game and physicality has seen him impress whether deployed in midfield or at centre-back – where he has vastly exceeded expectations.
The 30-year-old solidifies the Ligue 1 outfit’s defence while also posing a goal threat with his shots from range – scoring five times in the league.
Given the power and intensity Atletico base much of their game on, Gustavo will be integral to Marseille’s resistance.
But if Gustavo is a new revelation in the south of France, Diego Godin is the old warhorse that still has plenty of miles in him at Atletico. The emergence of Lucas Hernandez at his side has aided the La Liga veteran, but there’s no doubt that he’s still the stalwart and commanding presence in Atleti’s back line.
Godin has served as the essence of the foundation upon which Diego Simeone has built Atletico into a formidable force in Spain and Europe over the years. The Uruguayan has made 5.6 clearances per game in Europa this season and will have to keep that up in the final, owing to the dangerous balls in from Payet and Thauvin.
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