Match preview: Atlético vs. Athletic

Bucharest turns red and white for showpiece Europa League final

Falcao holds off the challenge of Aurtenetxe

Atleti aiming for third title in as many seasons
(colchonero.com)

It’s been a long, difficult season, but the moment Colchoneros around the world have been waiting for is finally upon us.

Atlético are currently in the Romanian capital of Bucharest preparing for Wednesday’s Europa League final, where they will meet La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao.

Having overcome Fulham to win the competition in 2010, the red and whites are looking to regain the title that striker Radamel Falcao almost single-handedly won for FC Porto last season.

Kick-off in Bucharest’s 55,600 capacity National Stadium is all set for 20:45 CET.

16 years on from celebrating our Doblete as a player, Diego Simeone has the chance to write a new chapter in his Atlético Madrid legacy by returning to Neptuno as manager.

Since his December appointment, Cholo has masterminded victories in Rome, Istanbul, Hannover and Valencia, but will face arguably his toughest test yet in the form of Athletic, and former national team boss Marcelo Bielsa.

Our opponents have earned worldwide admiration for their energetic and passionate displays in this year’s Europa League, notably beating favourites Manchester United home and away in the round of 16, and will also be making their way to the Calderón in a few weeks time for the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.

However, Atleti have quietly marched their way through the knock-out stages in ruthless fashion, winning 8 games out of 8 and scoring 19 times in the process.

In the league we sit four points clear of 10th placed Athletic, but much like ourselves in 2010, they have had to sacrifice domestic ambitions in favour of silverware.

Simeone is well aware of the threat posed by los Leones, but seemed confident in his team’s preparation and above all, ability, heading into the mammoth encounter.

“They are a team with a lot of intensity,” he told uefa.com, “a direct style of football, quick, brave, a team that isn’t afraid to play their way, even in away matches.”

“Knowing the team and their coach, they will be the same in any game, whether it’s a friendly or a final. We’ll need to be compact and fast, and more focused than in a league match.”

Having spent four years together under Bielsa for the Argentina national team, Cholo and his assistant Mono Burgos will be as familiar with his opposite number as anybody, but the man they call El Loco is always prone to springing a surprise and will have his side prepared to the very maximum come Wednesday evening.

“The teams are very evenly matched. I haven’t spoken to Bielsa but I have a great admiration for him,” said Simeone.

The two last went head-to-head back in March as a Falcao double inspired a 2-1 success, although Athletic won the reverse fixture 3-0 five months earlier when Gregorio Manzano was in charge.

With dreams of Champions League qualification still somewhat alive, Atlético have been forced to play at full strength in recent matches, although our midfield brains Diego and Arda Turan have seen their minutes rationed to ensure they are fully fit to take on the Basque side.

All 21 first team players made the trip to Romania as well as B-team top scorer Pedro Martín, who has been a fixture in our squad in the last month.

The youngster is likely to take a place on the bench too, as Tiago and Fran Mérida are unavailable due to suspension and ineligibility, respectively.

Captains Luis Perea and Antonio López, both of whom are leaving the club next month, and Sílvio are also injury doubts, but at least one of them should take a place on the bench.

Gabi will come in to captain the side in the absence of Tiago who, like Mérida, this time around was cup-tied for the 2010 final. He was shown red in the semi-final at Valencia for an altercation with Roberto Soldado.

Athletic, on the other hand, have been able to rest key players since overcoming Sporting to reach the final two weeks ago, and will be able to call upon their trusted 11 as a result.

The club are said to be desperate to tie down Bielsa for another year, although the 56-year-old tactician is focussing solely on tomorrow’s game.

“We will try to play naturally, with a lack of fear, because this will bring us closer to victory,” he said.

“Throughout every game, regardless of the importance, I haven’t seen a problem with confidence or anxiety yet that the team hasn’t been able to resolve themselves.”

On his relationship with Simeone and Burgos, he insisted there would be little room for sentiment and that no direct contact between them had been made.

“We have agreed not to speak until a month after the final. Of course, I want to win, regardless of whether two players I used to coach are in the other dugout or not.”

Many have billed the game as a duel between two of Europe’s most feared centre-forwards, and just for the final, two local stations in Bucharest have been renamed in honour of Atlético’s Colombian star Radamel Falcao and ‘the lion king’, Athletic’s Fernando Llorente.

On the subject of the final, the Spanish international echoed his manager’s statements, and hailed the achievements of his team over the past season.

“We have really had a great season in Europe, and that makes us even more determined to win,” he declared.

“A year ago nobody would have imagined that we could enjoy such a successful campaign,” adding, “We now have to rise to the occasion, and end the season on a high.”

“Atlético are a team we know well, and they have been very impressive in Europe.”

For his part, Falcao is just one goal shy of becoming the outright top scorer in the competition for a second year running, and has scored against every team he has faced so far.

“We have aimed to be in Bucharest all season, and after a great Europa League campaign we are here,” he said. “My obsession is to bring the trophy back to the fans in Neptuno.”

“I would like to be top scorer again, but the most important thing is that the team manages to win.”

Win or lose, the team will need to pick themselves up by Sunday for another big game at Villarreal, as we try one last time to make it into next season’s Champions League.

“We’re not satisfied with one or the other; we want to win the Europa League and finish in the top four.” said Falcao. “We have a lot of ambition and both are still possible, so why give up on a competition when you can go for both?”

Should Atleti emerge victorious, we’ll also break the record of 11 for the most consecutive European wins, a distinction we currently share with Barcelona (2003) and Ajax (1988).

To relive our path to the final, this video will get you in the mood, or if you want the Athletic route, a similar one can be found here.

Fans have travelled in their thousands over the past week, and with seas of red and white flooding the Romanian capital, we are all set for a classic final amongst two of Spain’s most passionate clubs.

Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Antonio López, Filipe, Dominguez, Perea, Sílvio, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Salvio, Arda, Assunção, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi, Pedro

Athletic match selection:
Goalkeepers: Iraizoz, Raúl
Defenders: Amorebieta, Iraola, San José, Aurtenetxe, Ekiza
Midfielders: Javi Martínez, De Marcos, Gabilondo, Susaeta, Ander, Iturraspe, Iñigo Pérez
Forwards: Llorente, Muniain, Toquero, Ibai

Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)


  • All hands on deck, all eyez on Falcao and Llorente who wil deliver the trophy? Falcao can you? Yes you can do it.
    GO ATLETICO YOU CAN WIN IT!!!

  • Ringo

    I’ve become a fan of both clubs, but I’m more an Atletico fan. Both have great strikers, raise great talents (Athletic uses more of them, though) and play with lots of passion.
    Let’s watch an amazing game!
    Have fun, everyone who travels/-ed the whole way.

  • Atletico SHOULD bring home the trophy comfortably but Bilbao are a threat. Llorente and other but we can win it. Go Atleti for Europa League Final and Champions League Qualification.

    Aupa Atleti!!!

  • Javi

    Like Ringo Bilbao is my second fav team in la liga
    It will be tough but we can win especially if we Play like we did in Valencia, Hanover and Turkey
    By the way were has all the criticism of the ownership gone?
    If you think about it what we have accomplished in the last two years overcomes what all European teams except maybe Barsa have done…not bad for our Atleti!!

  • kabir

    the owners have gotten lucky this season because of el cholo. think about the lack of continuity in our beloved team. no starting players will be the same from 2009. that is very sad. you can never make history like that.

  • shlomgar

    I reckon the club is aiming higher now than ever before. The board is stuck with a tough decision, either risking it all while the Classico duo is acting crazy, or staying low and surviving. I think Atle

  • shlomgar

    I think the board is picking the latter and putting their efforts on this ‘second grade’ trophy.
    With that in mind, it is a known fact that a good squad is solid for a period of three to four years, and major changes should be done once in a while in order to stay competitive as a club. Not saying I’m seeing eye to eye with the board, I still belive most decisions are made by the chairmans’ oracle, but it does give an explanation for our recent rollercoaster of a period.
    With that in mind, Aupa Atleti!

  • Epoy

    With our history, we should be always aiming for La Liga title

  • Sebyk

    By far the most difficult match in Europa League for us, Athletic has a great team, full of great players with the ability to decide matches and a genius (or a madman?) on the bench. It´s a game without a favourite, both teams have done well to get there and both would deserve to lift the trophy. I expect a thrilling and intensive final. You can do this my Atléti, make us all even more proud of you! Aúpa Atléti!!!

  • Jorge

    The match selection can’t be right. It only mentions Asenjo as GK.

  • palc

    I had a dream that Courtois wouldnt play because he is only on loan and would go back to chelsea after this season, and therefore it would be better to use Asenjo. Weird dream which did not mention the final score btw. 🙂

    But I bet we will win 2-1.

  • Palestine-atleti

    Atletico will win 3-0 falcao, adrian and diego will score

  • DJ_ZA

    I am so nervous right now …. and the match is finally underway …. Aupa Atleti!

  • Epoy

    Goallllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!

    Aupa Atleti!!!!

  • Epoy

    Falcao again!!!! Aupa!!!!

    2-0!!!

  • leika

    ATLEEEEETI!!!! ATLETI!!!! ATLETICO DE MADRIIIIID!!!!

  • ratchet

    C’MON, lets keep this up. We can do this!!

  • Epoy

    Campeones!!! Campeones!!!

  • ratchet

    YEEEAAAHHH!!!!

  • DJ_ZA

    okay everybody screaaammm!!!

  • Epoy

    Chelsea and Nando for Super Cup please!!!

  • Epoy

    I have a soft spot for Bilbao and seeing Llorente, Muniain et al is quite heartbreaking… Still, better them than us…

    Aupa Atleti!!!

  • Epoy

    ^^^ * seeing them cry

  • Dircil

    wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, what a wonderful day

  • shay

    CHOLO!!!!

  • AtletiFanInPhilly

    CAMPEONES!!!!

  • ratchet

    how come there is no match report yet?

  • DJ_ZA

    Do we really need a match report ratchet? All it needs to say is :

    “Brilliant!!! We won. They lost. Atleti are champions again!”