Big Match Feature: Europa League Final - Atalanta v Leverkusen

football21 May 2024 09:00
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Leverkusen @ getty images

All eyes are on the Dublin Arena in Ireland as it hosts the 2023/24 Uefa Europa League final between European final debutants Atalanta and newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday. Catch the action live on SuperSport at 9pm CAT.

Atalanta had never been past the quarterfinals in Europe prior to this season and were not involved in Uefa competition in 2022/23 following an eighth-place finish in Serie A.

This is also Leverkusen's first Europa League final, although they did win the Uefa Cup in 1988, beating Spanish side Espanyol despite losing the away first leg 3-0. Three goals in 24 second-half minutes brought them back level in the home return before a 3-2 success in a penalty shoot-out. The German club also reached the Uefa Champions League final in 2002, losing out 2-1 to Real Madrid at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

This season Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta finished top of Group D with four wins and two draws from their six matches before taking on section runners-up Sporting CP again in the round of 16, progressing 3-2 on aggregate (1-1 a, 2-1 h). A 3-0 first-leg victory at Anfield provided the basis for their quarterfinal elimination of Liverpool despite a 1-0 defeat at home, setting up a semifinal with Marseille that opened with a 1-1 draw in France before Ademola Lookman, Matteo Ruggeri and El Bilal Toure scored in a 3-0 second-leg win at Stadio di Bergamo.

Leverkusen topped Group H as the only side with a 100 per cent record, scoring 19 goals and conceding just three before coming up against section runners-up Qarabağ again in the last 16. That tie ended in a 5-4 aggregate victory, Leverkusen coming from 2-0 down both in the first leg in Azerbaijan (2-2) and the home return (3-2), substitute Patrik Schick scoring twice in added time in the latter fixture.

Die Werkself then defeated 2022/23 Uefa Europa Conference League champions West Ham in the quarterfinals (2-0 h, 1-1 a) to reach a second successive Europa League semifinal against Roma. Beaten 1-0 on aggregate 12 months earlier, Xabi Alonso's side took control this time with a 2-0 first-leg victory in Rome but then found themselves 0-2 down at home before rescuing themselves courtesy of an 82nd-minute own goal and a last-gasp Josip Stanišić equaliser (90+7) that stretched Leverkusen's unbeaten run to a record-breaking 49 games in all competitions.


Atalanta wins 2

Leverkusen wins 0

Draws 0

Atalanta goals 4

Leverkusen goals 2

The teams' only previous meetings came in the last 16 of the 2021/22 Europa League. Gasperini's Atalanta came from behind to win the first leg 3-2 at home, Florian Wirtz and Amine Adli each providing an assist, and the tie hung in the balance until Jeremie Boga struck the only goal a week later in Germany. Leverkusen's Jeremie Frimpong and Wirtz both missed the second leg through injuries.



Record v German clubs: W3 D3 L2 F10 A10

Atalanta's last game against Bundeslia opponents came in the 2021/22 Europa League quarterfinals, when a 1-1 first-leg draw at Leipzig preceded a 0-2 home defeat.

Aside from their two victories against Leverkusen, Atalanta's only other success against German opposition came in their first such tie, against Köln in the 1990/91 1990/91 Uefa Cup third round, when a 1-1 draw in their away first leg was followed by a 1-0 home win.

Last season was Atalanta's first without European football in five years after they had finished eighth in Serie A in 2021/22, although they subsequently earned just their second appearance in the Europa League group stage after ending the 2022/23 campaign fifth in the Italian top flight.

Atalanta's previous Europa League appearance, two seasons ago, took them as far as the quarterfinals after they had transferred from the Champions League group stage. Victories in the knockout round play-offs against Olympiacos (2-1 h, 3-0 a) and the round of 16 against Leverkusen (3-2 h, 1-0 a) set up a last-eight game against Leipzig but, after a 1-1 first-leg draw in Germany, two Christopher Nkunku goals in Bergamo ended the Italian side's hopes.

La Dea's only previous Europa League group stage appearance was in 2017/18 when they topped their section in convincing fashion, winning four and drawing two of their six games, including that 5-1 win against Everton at Goodison Park. However, their run was cut short in the round of 32 by Dortmund (2-3 a, 1-1 h).

Atalanta entered the following season's Europa League in the second qualifying round, beating Sarajevo 10-2 on aggregate and defeating Hapoel Haifa 6-1 in the third qualifying round before losing 4-2 on penalties to Copenhagen after two goalless draws in the qualifying play-offs.

They have lost only once in their 12 Europa League games this season (W7 D4).

Gasperini's side have only failed to score in two of their last 25 European matches.

Atalanta's record in one Uefa penalty shoot-out is W0 L1:

3-4 v Copenhagen, 2018/19 Uefa Europa League qualifying play-off


Record v Italian clubs: W6 D7 L14 F32 A44

This will be Leverkusen’s 28th meeting with a team from Italy; they have won only six of their previous 27.

Their first-leg victory against Roma in this season's semifinal was their first since beating Lazio 3-0 in the second leg of their 2015/16 Champions League play-off to secure a 3-1 aggregate victory, a run of nine games (D2 L7).

Leverkusen are in the Europa League for a sixth consecutive season.

Last season, following a third-place finish in their Champions League group, Alonso's team beat Monaco 5-3 on penalties in the knockout round play-offs (2-3 h, 3-2 a aet) before ousting Ferencváros (2-0 h, 2-0 a) and Union Saint-Gilloise (1-1 h, 4-1 a). That set up a semifinal meeting against a Roma side led by José Mourinho, who had been Alonso's coach at Real Madrid. A 1-0 defeat in Rome was followed by a goalless draw in Germany despite Leverkusen fashioning 23 attempts to Roma's one.

The 1988 Uefa Cup winners qualified for this season's group stage following a sixth-place Bundesliga finish, edging out 2021/22 Europa League winners Frankfurt on goal difference.

The German club have won ten and drawn three of their last 13 Europa League matches.

Leverkusen have scored 31 goals in their 12 Europa League matches this season; their highest total in a single campaign in Uefa competition is 32, in the 2001/02 Champions League.

Leverkusen's record in four Uefa penalty shoot-outs is W2 L2:

3-2 v Espanyol, 1987/88 Uefa Cup final

3-5 v Tirol Innsbruck, 1995 Uefa Intertoto Cup quarterfinal

2-3 v Atlético de Madrid, 2014/15 Uefa Champions League round of 16

5-3 v Monaco, 2022/23 Uefa Europa League knockout play-off


This is Atalanta's first ever European final.

Leverkusen (W1 L1)

1987/88 Uefa Cup – 0-3 (a), 3-0 (h, aet); (3-2 pens) v Espanyol

2001/02 Uefa Champions League – 1-2 v Real Madrid

Europa League final focus

This is the 15th Europa League final. The previous 14 have yielded 40 goals at an average of 2.86 per game. The biggest winning margin is three goals – 4-1 by Chelsea against Arsenal in 2018/19 and 3-0 achieved twice by Atlético de Madrid, against Athletic Club (2012) and Marseille (2018). The highest number of goals scored in the fixture is five – Sevilla's 3-2 victory over Dnipro in 2015, that 4-1 win for Chelsea in 2019, and another 3-2 success for Sevilla in 2019/20 against Inter.

Atalanta are bidding to become only the eighth different club to win the Europa League and the first from Italy, the only Serie A teams to have previously reached the final being Roma last season and Inter in 2020. Only four countries – Spain (seven wins), England (three), Portugal and Germany (one apiece) – have provided previous winners.

Eintracht Frankfurt's success in 2022 was a German club's first appearance in the Europa League final.

First-time winners have lifted the trophy in two of the past three seasons – Villarreal in 2020/21 and Frankfurt in 2021/22.

In 2018/19 Chelsea became the first Europa League winners to go through the season undefeated (W12 D3). Villarreal emulated that feat in 2020/21 (W11 D3), as did Eintracht in 2021/22 (W7 D6). Leverkusen can add to that list if they lift the trophy, while Atalanta have lost just once, in their quarterfinal second leg against Liverpool (0-1 h).

There has never been a sending-off in the Europa League final.

There have been two own goals in the fixture. Last season Sevilla's equaliser came from Gianluca Mancini putting through his own net, while the first was scored by Inter's Romelu Lukaku in their 2019/20 defeat by Sevilla.

Three penalties have been awarded in the Europa League final, all successfully converted – by Óscar Cardozo for Benfica against Chelsea in 2013, Eden Hazard for Chelsea against Arsenal in 2019, and Lukaku for Inter against Sevilla in 2020.

Four Europa League finals have been decided by penalty shoot-outs including the last three. Sevilla defeated Benfica 4-2 on spot kicks after a 0-0 draw in Turin in 2014, Villarreal overcame Manchester United 11-10 after a 1-1 draw in Gdańsk in 2021, Eintracht beat Rangers 5-4 after another 1-1 draw in Seville in 2022 before Sevilla again triumphed 4-1 against Roma last year. The only other final to have gone into extra time was the inaugural fixture in 2010, when Atlético overcame Fulham 2-1 in Hamburg.

Seven players have scored twice in the Europa League final – Diego Forlán (Atlético 2010), Radamel Falcao (Atlético 2012), Carlos Bacca (Sevilla 2015), Coke (Sevilla 2016), Antoine Griezmann (Atlético 2018), Hazard (Chelsea 2019) and Luuk de Jong (Sevilla 2020). There has yet to be a hat-trick.

Falcao is the only player to have scored in two Europa League finals, having previously struck Porto's winner in 2011. He is also the only two-time winner of the Player of the Match award (2011, 2012).