A look at 3 individual battles that played a part in Atletico Madrid’s comfortable victory over Marseille in the Europa League final.
Atletico Madrid broke their European jinx with one of the most one-sided finals in recent history, as they cruised to a 0-3 win against Marseille at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais courtesy of Antoine Griezmann’s inspired performance.
Marseille came out of the gates quickly and banged on Atletico’s doors incessantly for the first 20 minutes, but an individual mistake on their part gave Simeone’s men the lead. After that, the match was never the same as the Spaniards took control of the game and ran riot in the end.
Atletico’s victory means that Spanish clubs have now won eight out of the nine major European competitions in the last five years, with one more final (Liverpool vs Real Madrid) left to play.
#1 Antoine Griezmann vs Luiz Gustavo
If there was any doubt as to whether Griezmann had the heart to step up during the big games, here is the answer: Yes, he can.
The French forward was almost unplayable on the night, dancing around the Marseille defenders and picking out his teammates in the box with immaculate precision. Efficiency has been the key defining characteristic of Simeone’s Atletico in recent years, and Griezmann’s game was the pinnacle of that.
After Atletico were bogged down by Marseille’s high pressing in the early minutes, the game was slowly getting to a normal pace when the defining moment happened – Zambo Anguissa’s poor touch off a pass from goalkeeper Steve Mandanda gave the ball to Gabi, who found Griezmann easily.
The Frenchman waited for the keeper to make the dive, and calmly dispatched it past him to give the Red and Whites the lead. He doubled the lead after half-time – this time collecting the ball from Koke and lobbing the ‘keeper with his left foot.
Luiz Gustavo, handed the armband after Dimitri Payet’s hamstring injury early in the game, was tasked with marking Griezmann. While he found it easy at the beginning, when Atletico were yet to find their footing in the game, it got worse once the opener.
#2 Koke vs Bouna Sarr
Bouna Sarr has been one of Marseille’s best defenders this season, and any hopes of them stopping Atletico rested on the pairing of him and Gustavo. While Gustavo failed to live up to that expectation, Sarr was easily their best player on the pitch.
For the most part, he dealt with Koke’s marauding runs down the left flank but found himself overwhelmed by Atletico’s crowding of the ball. With centre-back Rami fully occupied with trying to keep Diego Costa silent, Sarr was overworked in his attempts to keep up with his opponents on the evening.
Koke, yet another staple of Simeone’s Atletico, had his skills on full display. Acting as the bridge between attack and defence with his distribution, he was pivotal in creating two of Atletico’s three goals on the evening.
First, he found Griezmann with the perfect ball during a counter to bag Atletico’s second goal of the night. Then, he waltzed into the Marseille box and squared a pass to captain Gabi, who put the game well and truly beyond their reach.
#3 Diego Costa vs Adil Rami
Look away, Chelsea fans. This is going to hurt.
Costa might not have scored or assisted in the final, but his game was a true showcase of just what the Blues have been missing this season – his ability to draw the defenders towards him and away from the rest of his team.
Whenever there was any space for Griezmann, Koke, Saul and Gabi to exploit, credit had to go to Costa. The Spaniard was a constant nuisance in the opposition box and pulled the Marseille defenders towards him at every possible juncture, giving his team more space to exploit.
To his credit, Adil Rami stayed with Costa for the entire game, but therein lay the mistake – Rami was completely occupied for the entire game buying Costa’s decoy, thereby letting Koke and the marauding Lucas Hernandez toy with Sarr.
This is exactly what makes Costa a dangerous striker to play against, in addition to his finishing. Unlike most forwards, Costa is not afraid to get physical with defenders and get into their hands. The result is them focusing too much on him, and losing the bigger picture.