No, Arsène Wenger didn’t get the Europa League Final farewell that he was hoping for, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch tonight’s fascinating encounter in Lyon.
A Bold Clash of Styles
In footballing terms, the two Europa League finalists are polar opposites. Marseille attacked their way through the knock-out rounds with scores of 3-1, 5-2, 5-3 and 3-2. With Dimitri Payet pulling the strings, Rudi Garcia’s team scores goals aplenty. Keeping goals out, however, could be an issue, especially if their centre-back pairing is Brazilian defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo and Mr Pamela Anderson, Adil Rami.
Defending has never been an issue for Diego Simeone’s Atleti. As Arsenal found out in the semi-finals, the Spaniards can shut up shop like no-one else. Jan Oblak is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and Uruguayans Diego Godín and José Giménez are two of the best defenders. In the Europa League knock-out rounds, they have conceded just 4 goals in 8 games. Having soaked up all the pressure, Atleti then have world-class counter-attacking options like Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, Vitolo and Koke.
Premier League Flops
Florian Thauvin’s wretched Newcastle record stood at 0 goals in 13 games. This season, the Frenchman has scored 26 in 52. The Marseille line-up is full of Premier League flops. Forward Clinton N’Jie scored 0 goals in 8 games for Tottenham; left-back Jordan Amavi was relegated with Aston Villa, and striker Konstantinos Mitroglou was relegated with Fulham. It might look like a rag-tag bunch of misfits, but somehow, Garcia has turned them into a proper team.
The Atlético squad, meanwhile, includes former Manchester City man Stefan Savić and, of course, former Chelsea strikers Costa and Fernando Torres.
The Exciting Underdog
Marseille will have the home advantage in France, but Atleti go into the 2018 Europa League Final as clear favourites. Simeone, Godín and co. have so much big-game experience. They won this tournament in 2010 and 2012 and reached the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016. They lost to local rivals Real on both occasions but that hardly makes them chokers, does it?
What are the chances of Marseille springing a surprise in Lyon? They may be the underdogs but don’t expect them to sit deep and pray for penalties. Instead, with Thauvin and Payet on the pitch, expect excitement and all-out attack.