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regular-article-logo Saturday, 15 June 2024

Europa League final: Bayer Leverkusen hold the edge but Atalanta are no pushovers

Several sides have come close to handing Leverkusen their first defeat of the season but, with 17 goals scored in or after the 90th minute, they do not give up until the final whistle

Reuters Dublin Published 22.05.24, 10:48 AM
Atalanta players during a practice session in Rome

Atalanta players during a practice session in Rome Reuters

Bayer Leverkusen had won only two major trophies in their 119-year history before this season but on Wednesday, the newly-crowned Bundesliga champions have the chance to claim a double when they face Atalanta in the Europa League final in Dublin.

Leverkusen broke Bayern Munich’s 11-year monopoly of the title in Germany this term as Xabi Alonso’s side became the first team in the Bundesliga’s 61-year history to complete the season unbeaten. They have also reached the German Cup final.

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Their undefeated run in all competitions this term has earned them the nickname Bayer ‘Neverlusen’ and Serie A side Atalanta will have their work cut out trying to beat a team that has not lost in a European record 51 matches since August.

Several sides have come close to handing Leverkusen their first defeat of the season but, with 17 goals scored in or after the 90th minute, they do not give up until the final whistle.

“We have been competitive in every game, whether we were playing well or poorly. We played well for the majority of the games, but we didn’t give up in the ones where we didn’t play well,” Alonso said in an interview with Uefa.

“That says a lot about the commitment of this team when it comes to preparing for every game. We didn’t take any game for granted.”

Much like Alonso, coach Gian Piero Gasperini has changed Atalanta’s fortunes, making the Bergamo-based outfit an ever-present club in European competition since his arrival in 2016.Atalanta play an enjoyable attacking style with high intensity and managers like Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri have likened facing Gasperini’s teams to “going to the dentist”. “Even if you come out unscathed, you still feel the pain,” Sarri once said.

‘Great achievement’

Like Leverkusen, Atalanta will also play in the Champions League next season after clinching a top-five finish but they will hope to end the season with their first major trophy in 61 years after losing to Juventus in the Coppa Italia final.

Just like Alonso, the match in Dublin will also be Gasperini’s first European final.

“It’s a great achievement and source of satisfaction, achieved with a really good season from this whole team,” the 66-year-old Italian said. “Is it the highest point of my career? In terms of accomplishment and prestige, absolutely. In terms of gratification, fortunately I’ve had quite a few, although perhaps not on the same level.”

While Alonso has a full squad at his disposal, Atalanta will be missing key starters such as midfielder Marten de Roon and defender Sead Kolasinac.

Leverkusen will aim to repeat their 1988 Uefa Cup success and victory could set them up for a rare treble as they face second-tier side Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal final, with Alonso saying such an achievement would be ‘historic’.

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