Wednesday, May 16 – 8:45p.m Local time – Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon, France
There will be a hush air of anxiety at the Groupama Stadium on Wednesday night when Marseille take on Atletico Madrid in the final of the Europa League.
The final match of the second tier European cup competition is sandwiched between two League matches for both Atletico and Marseille; with La Liga and Ligue One all set to come to a close this coming weekend.
Such is the case too for the Serie A which ends on Sunday, whereas the curtains of the 2017/18 League campaigns have already fallen in England and Germany.
Olympique Lyon and Marseille have their fair share of domestic rivalry that is centered on securing Champions League football; with the former third on the log behind Monaco and champions Paris Saint-Germain, but a meager point above fourth-placed Marseille in the Ligue One standings.
This unequivocally sets the stage for a hotly contested Match Day 38 round of fixtures in which Lyon host Nice, while Marseille welcome Amiens for a place in the playoff of next season’s Champions League.
Be that as it may, the French sides have set their differences apart, albeit fleetingly, for the greater good of their common goal which is to play in Europe’s most illustrious cup competition next season.
It’s no surprise seeing seasoned domestic rivals uniting in a World Cup year, with both sets of fans promising to turn out in full voice against the Spanish side which has observably been allocated slightly fewer than 10,000 tickets in the 57,000 capacity stadium.
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Atletico Madrid joined the Europa League in the round of 32 having being relegated from the Champions League following a shocking third place finish in Group C behind Chelsea and pool winners AS Roma.
The Spaniards however ran riot in the early stages of the knockout phase, registering somewhat of a cricket score against F.C. Copenhagen and Lokomotiv Moscow, before winning 2-1 on aggregate against Sporting Lisbon in the quarterfinal.
Their semifinal bout was to be their biggest test yet, as they faced Arsenal who were mooted as the team to repeat Manchester United’s heroics of attaining Champions League promotion via winning the Europa League title, despite having a poor run of form in the domestic League.
The Gunners were nonetheless unable to cut the corner to reach the front line, as a 2-1 aggregate defeat saw Diego Simeone’s charges book their ticket to Lyon.
Olympique Marseille on the other hand never looked anywhere near favorites to reach the final. The Olympians barely made it out of the group stage having hanged on by a thread to finish second in Group I, but began gaining momentum in the knockout stages.
Comfortable wins over Braga and Athletic Bilbao were followed by a 5-3 aggregate win over RB Leipzig that booked them a rematch with Red Bull Salzburg in the last four. The Austrian side held the bragging rights from their group stage flurry, but it Marseille who won when it counted for everything, as they reserved passage into the final with a cumulative 3-2 victory from the two legs.
Marseille will be looking to win their first European title in 25 years and their first competitive trophy since 2011, after PSG completed yet another clean sweep of domestic honors this season.
Marseille fans will be hot under the collar over the fitness of former West Ham United midfielder Dimitri Payet, who was absent from the team that drew 3-3 away to Guingamp in the League over the weekend.
Manager Rudi Garcia has however reiterated that the exclusion of the 31-year old- who has played an intricate role in the team’s run to the final- was nothing more than a much needed precaution.
Payet has earned his rightful ranking as captain of the squad through his leadership impetus and ability to motor forward with the ball, and will certainly be looking to impress ahead of Didier Deschamps’ final squad selection for the World Cup set to be announced on Thursday.
The most notable absentee for Atletico Madrid is manager Diego Simeone who was handed a four-match ban following his protest over Sime Vrsaljko’s 10th-minute red card against Arsenal during the first leg of the semifinal.
Europa League Final match prediction
Atletico Madrid may have gained notoriety for their resolute defending, but it is the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa that Marseille will be wary of. The attacking duo has the ability to leave their imprint on the counter, with mistakes at the opposing end seldom going unpunished.
Olympique Marseille have defied the odds to make it to the Europa League final, but their high flying campaign may run into headwinds against an experienced Atletico side that has reached two Champions League finals.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid to win – -151.52 on William Hill
Atletico Madrid vs. Marseille previous results
Marseille 0-0 Atletico Madrid (December 9, 2008)
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Marseille (October 1, 2008)
Sergio Aguero 4′
Raul Garcia 22′
Mamadou Niang 16′