Marseille and Atletico Madrid are the two teams remaining in the Europa League. The standard of the competition has been at maybe its highest ever, and the fact we are left with two European giants in the final speaks volumes for the growth of the Europa League.
The reward of a Champions League place for winning the tournament certainly helps, but successes of teams like Sevilla and Porto in the competition have undoubtedly raised its profile. The final is being held in the brand new Lyon stadium this Wednesday.
While Marseille survived a scare with Salzburg in the semi-final, Atletico cruised past Arsenal to book their place in France. Okay, cruised is a bit generous. Atleti were on the ropes with 10 men for most of the first leg. When they got that vital away goal, though, it seemed inevitable that Diego Simeone’s side would make it to the final.
After the disappointment of being knocked out of the Champions League, Atletico have – unlike a lot of teams who are forced to drop down to the Europa League – looked something like their best version of themselves.
Atletico at their best are one of the top defences in the world. Simeone’s side have given up a shade over 16 non-penalty expected goals against in their last 20 La Liga outings. I really like the 21/20 on under 0.5 goals by the ‘home team’.
Atleti are expected to name Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa in the starting line-up. Vitolo is their main injury worry, but he could be fit enough to start.
Marseille’s defence is obviously not as resilient as Atletico’s, and I doubt they will keep Griezmann and Costa quiet for ninety minutes. Costa to score the opening goal at 19/5 is very appealing after his dominant display against Arsenal.
Marseille’s attack should be feared too, however. Dimitri Payet, Lucas Ocampos and Florian Thauvin form a fearsome attacking midfield triumvirate. Payet and Thauvin have been producing at an elite rate this season.
Only Neymar has a better expected assists per 90 in Ligue 1 than the duo, and Payet ranks higher than Messi in the same category. Thauvin has contributed 22 league goals, too.
If Marseille are to have any chance, they need big performances from Thauvin and Payet. Thauvin to score anytime at 19/5 looks decent value.
Away from their attacking prowess, the trends are not good for Marseille. Form has been poor, including a 3-3 draw with Guingamp in their last outing, leaving them off the pace for Champions League qualification. They have won just once in four matches and have struggled on the road all season.
Despite that, the 3/5 price on Marseille to have more possession is a good one. Atletico average under 50% in the Europa League this season, and will likely sit deep from the off, looking to create chances with long balls to Costa in transition.
Marseille will want to counter-attack themselves but may have little choice other than to have a tonne of possession.
Ill-discipline or sheer misfortune are most likely to stop Atletico. Marseille will need a majestic attacking performance to stand a chance, but even then, I doubt their defence can hold up.
It won’t be a walkover, because that’s not how Atleti work, but it should be a win for the Spanish club.
TIP: Atletico Madrid to win 2-1 @ 8/1
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*