Europa League Final preview: Atletico Madrid

The all-Spanish showdown is set to be a thriller

Ross Farquhar

Atletico Madrid take on their Basque counterparts Athletic Bilbao in the all-Spanish Europa League Final.

Atletico Madrid won the Uefa Europa League in 2010 and there is no reason as to why they can’t win it again this year.
Despite their recent poor league form at the start of the season and the dismissal of Enrique “Quique” Sanchez Flores, Atleti have progressed from strength to strength under the leadership of fan favourite Diego Simone.

Simeone has been with the club for just five months but has already steered his side to the brink of glory on the continent. Since taking charge of Atletico, the 42-year-old has recorded an impressive 58.6% win percentage of their games played and now find themselves in fifth position in the Spanish Primera Division.

Having won the tournament in 2010, Madrid should know what it takes to win the trophy yet again. Despite losing the spine of their team in the form of David De Gea, Sergio Kun Aguero and Diego Forlan to Manchester United, Manchester City and Internazionale they haven’t suffered a great deal.  Los Colchoneros replaced these key players with Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois, Brazilian playmaker Diego, little Turkish winger Arda Turan and the Columbian forward Radamel Falcao, who has scored 33 goals in 46 appearances.

Falcao (right) has been an integral player for Simone’s side

The introduction of Courtois has been striking as he has churned out impressive performances each week in his debut season at the Vicente Calderon. However it is the return to form of Diego, Adrian and Falcao that has revitalised and pushed Atletico up to fifth in the league table and through to the Europa League final.

Athletic Bilbao are a strong and exciting side going forward with such players as Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Javi Martinez. However the Basques back line will have to keep an eye on Atletico’s strike partnership of Falcao and Adrian as they are both in the Europa league top three goal scorers, Falcao with 10 and Adrian with 8 respectively.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that Atletico’s threat ended with their strikers, but it doesn’t. The Basque side must also nullify the threat of Madrid’s little Brazilian playmaker Diego. As well as Falcao and Adrian, Diego is an integral part of the Madrid side and he is usually found at the centre of all things good at Atletico. The little playmaker will prove be a thorn in the side of Bilbao as they look to keep him quiet and cut off the service to both Falcao and Adrian when the sides meet on Thursday.

With such a potent attacking threat, strong defence and a steady goalkeeper between the sticks Atletico Madrid can’t be taken lightly. Add to this a 10 game unbeaten run in the Europa League which seen them rack up an impressive 4-2 victory over Spanish rival Valencia  and you will see that Madrid will be seen as firm favourites to lift the prestigious Europa League trophy for the second time in three years.

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