Death. Taxes. A clean sheet for Atletico Madrid.
It’s one of life’s absolute certainties and we all experienced that firsthand as Atletico defeated Marseille 3-0 in the Europa League final on Wednesday in Lyon. A brace from Antoine Griezmann and a late tally from Gabi secured the club’s third title in rather comfortable fashion.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s final.
Few teams are as defined by a particular style as Atletico Madrid. Anyone who has watched them under their enigmatic coach Diego Simeone knows what to expect from the Colchoneros. They will be incredibly stingy at the back, there will be no space in the final third from the opposition and they’ll pounce on any error.
This is exactly how the match played out. Marseille love to exploit the flanks and ping crosses into the box. Unfortunately for the French outfit, Atleti thrive in those situations. The defenders almost seem to enjoy the attacking pressure.
However, when the creative Dimitri Payet exited with an injury just after the half-hour mark, Atletico’s job was simplified. Florian Thauvin and Lucas Ocampos became Marseille’s primary attacking threats. Valere Germain is not a striker who can win aerial duels like Kostas Mitroglou – who was not fit enough to start – so Atleti centre-backs Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez easily gobbled up the crosses into the box.
When Marseille’s wingers tried to improvise, especially Thauvin, Lucas Hernandez was incredibly alert. Hernandez deserves immense credit because the French attacker has been one of the most prolific attackers in Europe. He’s recorded 25 goals and 13 assists in 46 matches in all competitions this season.
Eventually, a poorly controlled touch from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa allowed Gabi to play in Antoine Griezmann for the opening goal. Another turnover in Marseille’s half of the pitch early in the second have led to Griezmann’s second strike.
This was typical Atleti in every sense by conceding just two shots on target and being opportunistic in the attacking third.
Dimitri Payet’s World Cup dream in jeopardy?
France coach Didier Deschamps will unveil his preliminary World Cup squad on Thursday. Dimitri Payet was favoured to make the cut with his incredible form over the past few weeks.
After his injury, and based on his tearful reaction when coming off, Payet’s World Cup chances may have taken a turn for the worst.
Dimitri Payet leaves the pitch in tears after being forced to come off with an injury
France's World Cup squad is set to be announced tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/o9EKJZ0bRA
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 16, 2018
Payet picked up a muscular injury in training and missed the Guingamp match last Friday as a precaution. Despite some scintillating passes in the final third, the Frenchman did not look fit enough and was eventually withdrawn for Maxime Lopez.
The 31-year-old had a rather inconsistent start to the season and was a near-guarantee to miss out on the World Cup. But thanks to five goals and 11 assists in his last 14 games, Payet was back in the conversation. It would be tragic for him to be omitted in this circumstance.
Heavily linked with a €120 million ($181 million) move to Barcelona, Wednesday’s final might have been Antoine Griezmann’s final marquee match with Atletico Madrid. A brace to help the team lift the Europa League title is not a bad way to cap it off.
The 26-year-old forward was targeted by Manchester United last season, and Barcelona has been relentless in its pursuit of the French international this year. Atletico even filed a tampering complaint against Barca. It was that intense.
Griezmann’s start to the campaign was quite rocky. He was whistled by his own fans and only had three goals in his first 14 matches of the season. This also coincided with Atletico crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage.
However, Griezmann and Atletico have been nearly unstoppable since that disappointment. He has eight goals in the Europa League, his highest single-season tally in any European competition and can still hit the 20-goal mark in La Liga in the finale this weekend against Eibar.
Make that eight; his best-ever European tally. https://t.co/6FlIovDUPk
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 16, 2018
Whatever the conclusion, Griezmann has finished the season on a high. If he does leave, one has to wonder who will replace him. It will certainly be difficult.