Atletico Madrid have won UEFA’s Europa League for the third time in eight years, comfortably beating Olympique Marseille 3-0 in Lyon.
Marseille came into the match desperate to end French football’s 25-year trophy drought on the European stage, Intertoto Cups notwithstanding. Ultimately it was the Spanish side’s experience and technical quality in such arenas that won them the cup. For the Spaniards it is a virtuous circle, for the French it is a vicious one.
Where Marseille were profligate, Atletico were ruthless. Where Marseille were naive, Atletico were streetwise. Where Marseille’s bench was light on world class, Atletico’s boasted World Cup winners.
Marseille knew they would not have too many goal-scoring chances against the best defence in La Liga. After four minutes they had already wasted a good one. Valere Germain blazed over when he should have least hit the target after Dimitri Payet put him through. For the first 15 minutes Marseille were the better side; they enjoyed more possession than their opponents and won more 50-50 challenges. Their supporters also outnumbered the Madrileños and encouraged them noisily forward. But they found no breakthrough.
On 21 minutes Marseille’s goalkeeper Steve Mandanda overhit a pass to his defender Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The risk a goalkeeper takes in passing through the middle and along the ground quickly became all too apparent: Atletico captain Gabi stole the ball and played it forward to Griezmann, who had plenty of time and space to slot past Mandanda. One chance was all Atletico needed.
It quickly got much worse for OM. With just over half an hour played, Marseille’s captain and creative engine Dimitri Payet limped off injured. Psychologically it was a harder blow for Marseille than the goal had been and although Payet was replaced, by Maxime Lopez, he proved irreplaceable. From then on, it seemed like Marseille were playing with a man fewer.
They made it to half time without further damage to the scoreline but four minutes after the break Griezmann pounced again, chipping Mandanda after being played in by a surging Koke. Two chances, Two nil.
Marseille didn’t give up, but their long balls lofted into the box from wide or from deep were dealt with comfortably by Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak and his defence, marshalled by Diego Godin. The entrance of Kostas Mitroglou in place of Valere Germain after 74 minutes did provide Marseille with a different attacking outlet and almost a goal, had Mitroglou’s glancing header gone in off the post rather than to safety.
By then there was an air of inevitability about the outcome. Atletico were in control and put matters beyond all doubt in the 89th minute. Griezmann started the move when he played in Costa, who found Saul, who in turn gave it to captain Gabi, lurking in space on the right of the penalty area. Gabi fired it home, making the victory an emphatic one. Atletico showed La Liga still rules the Europa League. Marseille, while valiant, lacked the killer instinct and showed why Ligue Un is not quite there yet.