Still reeling from two Champions League final defeats to Real Madrid, Atlético are looking for some group therapy with a Europa League mauling of Marseille
With everything set in stone in La Liga since last month, Atlético fans have dreamt of this European night for many weeks. They are back in a final after their double disappointment in the Champions League against Real Madrid. Only thinking about what happened then sends shivers through the collective Colchonero’s spines. Lyon will be ground-zero for a new beginning for Atlético, even if the chance comes in the middle of Simeone’s sunset as manager of the Rojiblanco club.
When the Argentinean landed at the Vicente Calderón stadium in December 2011, Atletico was falling short of expectations. That season he managed to conquer the UEFA Europa League with a brace from Falcao and another Diego goal against Athletic Club. Next season, the team qualified for the Champions League. And, in the 2013-2014 season, they won LaLiga in the last game against Barça.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 16, 2018
Cholo has been Atleti’s boss for six-and-a-half years, placing them amongst the best in Europe, and it all began in the Europa League. He said it in the press conference this Tuesday: “It was the beginning of something important for us”.
So, it was fully expected that, after a disappointing group round this year which unexpectedly knocked them out of the Champions League, Atleti would eye another trophy in Europe’s second-tier competition. Silverware is silverware, they thought. They have been implacable since, beating Copenhagen, Lokomotiv Moskow, Sporting Clube and Arsenal in their furious sprint to conquer another championship after those failed attempts vs Real Madrid and the obvious slump and depression that followed.
And they did it with a squad of twelve, fourteen players maybe?
It’s actually amazing how little Atleti has noticed the alarming scarcity of players in their squad. After selling quite a few big names in the January transfer market (Yannick Carrasco, Nico Gaitán, Miguel Ángel Moyà…), their roster was made up of 19 footballers including both goalkeepers.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 15, 2018
Since that point onwards, the manager always relied on youth players from the B-team to freshen up and complete each pre-game line-up. The team didn’t even flinch: second place in LaLiga almost secured and reaching the Europa League final in an absolutely amazing showcase of endurance and physical prowess.
Lyon became some sort of ‘Holy Grail’ for Colchonero fans, especially after knocking out Arsenal with surgical precision and handing out the scarce 10.000 tickets to the loyal fanbase which will paint the Stade de Lyon stands with the traditional red and white colours.
Many of them face a 1,250 kilometre trip by car to support their team in the stands. Lyon will buzz with activity from early on Wednesday… and everybody prays for things to remain cheerful and not spin out of control.
Indeed, the amount of security surrounding the match will be extra-tight, as Olympique Marseille hooligans have the nasty habit of destroying every single place they travel to in any away game. Earlier this season, two Basque police officers were knifed in Marseille’s visit to Bilbao. They are extremely dangerous individuals and they will collide in the same city for a few hours with Atlético fans but also with supporters of their arch-nemesis, Olympique Lyon.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) May 16, 2018
In a game with such a French flavor, it is a given that many eyes will be placed upon Antoine Griezmann. ‘Grizzy’ has made the headlines lately for Barça’s keen interest in signing him, but the striker seems focused and ready to wreak havoc in Marseille’s defense right next to his team-mate and friend Diego Costa. Atleti’s dynamic duo in front have scored six goals combined in the eight-game road to the final. They’re undoubtedly Simeone’s best and most reliable shot at winning.
The game will have plenty of drama and side-stories to enjoy apart from what happens on the pitch. It will be Fernando Torres’ last chance to finally win a trophy with his beloved Atleti: the prodigal son’s return a few seasons ago, after conquering the 2013-2014 LaLiga, has mirrored a silverware drought in the Colchonero side.
Also, Simeone will be keen on pestering every possible staff member to the literal last minute as he won’t be able to sit on the bench on Wednesday: his four-game ban is still effective, so he will need to find a way to motivate his men with the help of a proxy or, who knows, with the same dark magic used by his former receding hair line to grow into a nice bunch of hair lately. Winners and trophy holders do have an acute sense of fashion, after all.