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Marseille v Atletico Madrid: Match preview
It was the game that was supposed to offer outgoing Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger his chance to secure a fairytale farewell.
Instead, he will be reduced to an envious watching brief as the Gunners’ semi-final conquerors, Atletico Madrid, battle Marseille for the first major piece of continental silverware of the season.
Wenger must be experiencing a disconcerting sense of withdrawal right now after finally jumping off the relentless, all-consuming managerial rollercoaster that has been his life for the last 35 years.
As he tries to re-adjust to his new reality, there will surely be a few sleepless nights over that fateful first leg at the Emirates, when Arsenal spurned several chances against Atletico’s ten men before Antoine Griezmann pounced late on to secure a 1-1 draw.
A solitary Diego Costa goal in the return game proved enough to shatter Wenger’s dreams of bowing out on a high with the first European trophy of his 22-year tenure in north London.
Plenty of column inches have deservedly been devoted to celebrating the Frenchman’s achievements this week, but as he knows only too well, life in football’s fast lane waits for no man.
The spotlight, quite rightly, now shines firmly on two giants of European football as they collide at Lyon’s Groupama Stadium.
After the impressive nature of their win over Arsenal, Atletico go into the final as strong favourites, as they have been ever since dropping out of the Champions League and into the last 32.
Boss Diego Simeone is targeting his own slice of history as Los Colchoneros aim to move alongside Sevilla as the Europa League’s most successful side since the competition’s current format was introduced in 2009.
Victory would simultaneously secure a remarkable personal hat-trick for Simeone, who lifted the trophy for Atletico in that inaugural campaign – also his first in charge of the club - and followed it up with another triumph in 2012.
Incredibly, this will be a fifth European final for Simeone in his eight seasons in charge, having also suffered Champions League heartbreak at the hands of bitter rivals Real Madrid in both 2014 and 2016.
"Whenever I played a final I experienced it with the same clarity, regardless of the talks or what surrounds the game," he said at his pre-match press conference.
"This is for people who don't participate, as the only things that matter are reality and what happens on [the field].
"Those who are there know how to play and what matters."
The Argentine, of course, will not be on the touchline as he remains suspended after being sent to the stands in the tempestuous aftermath of Sime Vrsaljko’s early red card in the first leg against Arsenal.
However, he insisted he has full faith in the ability of his assistant, German Burgos, to execute Atletico’s gameplan to perfection.
"I mentioned it in the previous match that beyond the sadness for not being there, I feel safe with his presence," he said.
"We know each other inside out and we understand the football in the same way. We are a team that works a lot and I trust German's presence as the head of the team."
Standing in Atletico’s way are a Marseille side who finally have the sniff of former glories in their nostrils two years on from being bought and financially stabilised by American businessman Patrick McCourt.
L’OM were the first winners of the rebranded Champions League in 1993 with a team featuring the likes of Marcel Desailly, Fabien Barthez, Didier Deschamps, Rudi Voller and match-winner Basile Boli.
But that 1-0 triumph over AC Milan was subsequently tainted by the match-fixing scandal that engulfed the club shortly after they hoisted the trophy aloft in Munich.
Then-owner Bernard Tapie was found guilty of attempting to bribe Valenciennes players before a league game in the lead up to the showpiece clash with the Rossoneri.
Marseille were promptly relegated to Ligue 2 and banned from defending their European crown in the following season.
A return of one Ligue 1 title and a hat-trick of Coupe de la Ligue wins between 2010 and 2012 in the intervening 25 years has proved hugely unsatisfactory for the biggest club, historically at least, in France.
And having also lost two UEFA Cup finals (in 1999 and 2004), they could hardly have greater motivation to win their first ‘clean’ European title as they make the 195-mile trip north to Lyon.
Unlike Atletico, Marseille’s road to the brink of the promised land has been a veritable marathon, having started all the way back in July against Oostende in the third qualifying round.
Despite labouring to second place in a group featuring Red Bull Salzburg, Konyaspor and Vitoria Guimaraes, they eliminated Braga, Athletic and RB Leipzig before exacting revenge on Red Bull Salzburg to book their place in the final.
The guarantee of a Champions League place for the winner in Lyon adds an extra layer of importance for the French side in particular.
While Atletico are already assured of a spot through their position in La Liga, Marseille sit a point outside the top three in Ligue 1 ahead of the final round of games this weekend on BT Sport.
"This year we're celebrating the 25th anniversary of being the first French side to win the Champions League,” said boss Rudi Garcia.
“Now we have a fantastic chance to become the first to win the Europa League. We're lucky to be at Marseille, a club which has a fantastic love affair with Europe dating back to the 1990s.
"We know experience is on their side. They came into the competition from the Champions League and we came through the Europa League playoffs. We have more young players who aren't used to these big occasions.
“It's better to stay calm and not to play the match in our heads ahead of time."
The game has inevitably been billed as a clash between two men looking to make their mark on home soil in the shape of former West Ham star Dimitri Payet and Griezmann.
L’OM skipper Payet, who has three goals and a tournament-high of seven assists to his name, challenged his team-mates to grasp the opportunity to write their names into Marseille folklore.
"Today we can go down in history and leave an even bigger mark on this club,” he said.
"I think the expectation level in Marseille and across the country is extraordinary and our motivation comes from that.
"You play football to be involved in these big games. It's not a normal match; it's a final, so you have to try to play like you usually do while also giving a bit extra because we'll be up against a great side that has been put together to try to win the Champions League.
“We're the underdogs but we'll give it everything.”
Meanwhile, Griezmann is looking to land his first major piece of silverware in what could prove his final game for Atletico as rumours of a big-money summer move to Barcelona persist.
"This could be my first important title after winning the Supercopa de Espana," he told UEFA.com.
"I have the opportunity to win the Europa League now and I really want that. I'll do everything I can to help my teammates. For the club, it's just another title.
"I simply can't wait for the match to come around and it'll be fantastic to play in Lyon, which is just 45 minutes from my hometown [of Macon].
"A lot of my family members will be at the game."
Griezmann has dovetailed impressively with Costa since the former Chelsea star’s return to the club in January and Marseille will need to keep both quiet if they are to have any chance of upsetting the odds.
"Costa is a great foil for me," added Griezmann.
"He creates a lot of space for me in between the opposition midfield and defence with his runs in behind, and I know he'll be there to latch on to my through balls.
"We haven't had that much time together, but we're linking up well.
"He is like an animal on the pitch and he loves a scrap. The more he's scrapping, the better he plays.
"He's more laid-back with the press, but he's like a madman in the dressing room and he's always making jokes, playing pranks and doing crazy stuff."
Marseille can also call upon a number of players familiar to Premier League audiences, such as Jordan Amavi, Steve Mandanda, Clinton N’Jie, Kostas Mitroglou and, most intriguingly, Florian Thauvin.
Widely branded a £15 million flop after a disastrous six-month spell at Newcastle United in 2015-16, Thauvin has been a revelation in the two-and-a-half years since returning to his former club, initially on loan and then on a permanent deal last summer.
The 25-year-old has plundered an incredible 26 goals in all competitions this term to put himself firmly in the frame for France’s World Cup squad, which will be announced on Thursday.
Thauvin and Payet will be expected to shoulder the creative burden as Marseille aim to stretch Atletico’s narrow 4-4-2 and breach their famously miserly rearguard.
However, the smart money remains on Griezmann, Costa or perhaps even likely impact substitute Fernando Torres – looking to win his first trophy with his boyhood club in his final game for them – proving decisive.
Which way will it go? Make sure you join us live from 7pm to find out.
Marseille v Atletico Madrid: Team news
Marseille have a fitness doubt over centre-back Rolando, who is nursing a calf problem, while Mitroglou is hoping to shake off a thigh problem.
Payet is expected to return to the starting XI after missing Friday's 3-3 draw with Guingamp as a precaution but there is a question mark over Buona Sarr, who dislocated his shoulder late on in the six-goal thriller.
Atletico hope to have defender Jose Gimenez available despite his early withdrawal from a training session on Sunday.
Marseille v Atletico Madrid: Head to head
Marseille and Atletico Madrid have only met twice before, in the group stages of the 2008/09 Champions League.
The Spaniards had the edge on that occasion, winning 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon through goals from Sergio Aguero and Raul Garcia before claiming a goalless draw at the Stade Velodrome.
Marseille v Atletico Madrid: Key statistics
Marseille are aiming to be the first French team to win a major European competition since 1995/96, when PSG beat SK Rapid Wien in the Cup Winners' Cup.
This will be Diego Simeone’s fourth major European final since taking charge at Atlético in 2011/12 – the Argentine has lost both of his Champions League finals, but did win his only previous Europa League final in 2011/12.
A victory for Los Colchoneros in this game would see them equal Sevilla as the team to have won the Europa League on the most occasions (three).
Since the start of the 2013/14 campaign, Spanish clubs have won seven of the possible eight Champions League and Europa League trophies combined, with Manchester United’s win in this competition last season being the only exception.
Marseille have won just four of their 15 games against Spanish teams in European competition (D3 L8)
This will be Marseille’s fourth game at the Groupama Stadium since its opening in 2016 – they’ve not won any of their previous three games there (D1 L2)
In games played away from their home ground, Marseille have kept just one clean sheet in 16 games in the Europa League.
Only one of Atlético Madrid’s last 29 games in the Europa League have finished level (1-1 v Arsenal in the semi-final first leg), winning 23 and losing five games in this run.
Of players to have made 15+ appearances in the Europa League, Gabi has the best win percentage of any player in competition history (82% - 18 wins from 22 games).
Dimitri Payet has made seven assists in 11 appearances in the Europa League this term; the most of any player in the competition.
Indeed, the Marseille captain has been directly involved in eight goals in his last six appearances in the Europa League (three goals and five assists).
Antoine Griezmann has had a hand in more goals than any other Atlético Madrid player in European competition this season (10 - six goals and four assists), including a goal and an assist in their 2-1 aggregate win over Arsenal in the semi-finals.
Jan Oblak has kept six clean sheets in European competition this season; a joint-high alongside fellow European finalist Loris Karius (six for Liverpool).
No team has been shown more yellow cards (30) or red cards (3) than Marseille in the Europa League this season.
Marseille v Atletico Madrid: Match odds
Atletico Madrid: 9/2
Marseille to lift trophy: 12/5
Atletico Madrid to lift trophy: 3/10
All odds correct at time of writing with bet365
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