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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Europa League final: How Marseille's cavaliers can combat Atletico Madrid's cagey warriors

OM's creator-in-chief Dimitri Payet is nursing a muscular injury while Adil Rami must find a way to outmuscle Atletico's most provocative character Diego Costa

Atletico Madrid midfield linchpin Koke, left, will have to nullify the threat of Marseille playmaker Dimitri Payet with his own precision passing to set Atletico up on the counter-attack in Wednesday's Europa League final in Lyon. Getty Images
Atletico Madrid midfield linchpin Koke, left, will have to nullify the threat of Marseille playmaker Dimitri Payet with his own precision passing to set Atletico up on the counter-attack in Wednesday's Europa League final in Lyon. Getty Images

It is 14 years since Olympique Marseille, OM, reached a European final, when they were defeated by Spanish opposition, Valencia, in the Uefa Cup. The club are on the rise again, but even with the perceived advantage of playing in their native country, the clear favourites for Wednesday’s Europa League showdown in Lyon are Atletico Madrid, veterans of four major European finals, including two victories in the Europa League, since 2010.

It is easily styled as a contest of cagey warriors – the organised, counter-attacking Atletico – against cavaliers, an OM who can score freely but defend nervously. Here are some of the key duels in which the French club must seek to gain an edge.

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Read more from Ian Hawkey:

Europa League final: Antoine Griezmann, the pony rejected by French clubs who turned into a thoroughbred colt at Atletico Madrid

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Koke v Dimitri Payet

Marseille have been carefully nursing Payet through the last few days, the captain and playmaker having suffered a muscular injury less than a week ahead of the final. They hope he can take a full part in it. Payet, who controversially pushed for his return to Marseille while starring for West Ham United last season, is the key creative fulcrum for OM. He is credited with a stunning 24 assists in his 46 matches across competitions this season, five of those in the knockout phase of the Europa League, where he has also scored three goals.

Payet is deadly with dead-ball, an area in which Koke, Madrid-born and Atletico-bred, is gifted, precise in his delivery. Koke has not been quite the prolific provider of the final pass this season that he has been in the past, but Atletico direct their play through him, and he can launch a counter-attack with devastating efficiency. He is industrious off the ball, and he will be aware of his role in disrupting the rhythm of Marseille’s creators, Payet above all.

Adil Rami of Marseille, left, will have to contain the rampaging Diego Costa of Atletico Madrid. Getty Images
Adil Rami of Marseille, left, will have to contain the rampaging Diego Costa of Atletico Madrid. Getty Images

Diego Costa v Adil Rami

Diego Costa’s superbly taken goal against Arsenal in Madrid eased Atletico into the final. He has enjoyed himself since his January return to the club where he spent two previous spells, the second ending when he signed for Chelsea in 2014. His marker on Wednesday is another who has travelled widely, the France international Adil Rami, formerly of Valencia, AC Milan and Sevilla, where he won a Europa League in 2016.

They are both combative footballers, physically imposing, and with big personalities. In each of the three occasions they have met in the past, once in La Liga and twice in the Uefa Champions League, Costa has scored. On all those occasions one of the two has been booked. Rami needs to contain Costa, keep cool and outmuscle a provocative character, who is not only a sure finisher but expert provider of opportunities and space for Antoine Griezmann, Atletico’s leading scorer.

Europa League final.
Europa League final.

Lucas Hernandez v Florian Thauvin

Lucas Hernandez was born in Marseille, 22 years ago. But he grew up in Spain. His progress in the past 18 months has been such that his native country and his adopted one have got into a joust for the right to his international future. His younger brother, Theo, joined Real Madrid last year from Atletico but has reason too look back on that decision with some regret. Lucas, a central defender by vocation, has made a home in the left-back position that is Theo’s natural role and indications are Lucas will be picked there ahead of the experienced Filipe Luis.

If so, he wil have a demanding task, monitoring Florian Thauvin’s incursions from the right of Marseille’s attack. Thauvin, 25 and much matured, has had an excellent season, registering 26 goals for the club and pushing himself into contention for a place in France’s World Cup plans. A dazzling dribbler, with more and more composure in his use of the ball, he has a point to prove about his capacity, sometimes questioned, to rise to the big occasion.

German ‘Mono’ Burgos v Rudi Garcia

Atletico’s inspirational manager, Diego Simeone, is banned from the touchline in Lyon, thanks to his red card in the first leg of the semi-final at Arsenal. Step forward long-time deputy "Mono" Burgos, former goalkeeper of Atletico and a man who will ensure the Atletico technical area houses just as much crackling electricity as Simeone gives it. Big, broad and booming, Burgos exudes menace, but has a sharp tactical nous, an expertise in organising set-plays and the respect of Atletico’s players.

Rudi Garcia, the French son of a Spanish father who has been in charge of Marseille since leaving Roma in 2016, will certainly be the more urbane, smartly-attired manager patrolling the touchline. He encourages flair, but his Marseille also live dangerously. They let a two-goal lead vanish in their semi-final against Salzburg, which went into extra time. OM, to Garcia’s frustration, have the leakiest defence in the top five of Ligue 1; Atletico have by far the tightest – 20 goals conceded all season – in Spain’s top flight.

MATCH INFO

Europa League final

Who: Marseille v Atletico Madrid
Where: Parc OL, Lyon, France
When: Wednesday, 10.45pm kick off (UAE)
TV: BeIN Sports

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