Europa League Final match report: Marseille vs. Atletico Madrid


If it was to be Antoine Griezmann’s last game in an Atletico Madrid shirt then it was a fitting farewell. The Frenchman was at his brilliant best as he score a brace and played a part in another as Atletico romped to a 3-0 victory over Marseille in the Europa League Final in Lyon.


The Frenchman is being heavily linked with a move to long-time rivals Barcelona, very much to the annoyance of his current employers. But there was little to be annoyed with on this evening when Griezmann gave everybody a stark reminder as to why he is being so heavily courted by Europe’s best.


It was also an emotional night for Fernando Torres who will be leaving Atletico for the second and final time in the summer when his contract expires. He came on in stoppage time to a chorus of cheers from the travelling Atletico support and finally got his hands on his first trophy with his boyhood club.


Marseille started the game on the front foot, the crowd packed into the Stade des Lumieres gave the contest the feel of a home game for the French outfit. It was Marseille who carved out the first big chance of the match. Dimitri Payet, who would later be reduced to tears after aggravating a hamstring injury, slide through a well-weighted ball into Valere Germain, the striker shaped up to shoot but bent his effort over from ten yards out and gave the Spanish visitors the wakeup call they needed.


Atletico, the footballing predators of the knock-out stages of Continental competitions, struck on the 21st minute to quieten to raucous Marseille fanbase. A Steve Mandanda pass was awfully controlled by Andre Zambo Anguissa. From there, Griezmann was fortuitously played in off a Gabi ricochet. There was little fortuitous about the Frenchman’s finish, however. He slotted the ball into the back of the net and wheeled away for his trademark Fortnite celebration.


Ten minutes later Marseille’s fortunes soured further with Payet laying on the turf massaging his hamstring. Tears ran down his face as he departed, knowing his final was over and he is now left to sweat as to his fitness ahead of the World Cup.


The second Atletico goal came four minutes into the second half. And it came from another Marseille mistake in which they were made to pay for. Marseille failed to get the ball under control from their throw-in and Atletico pounced upon the loose ball and fed it to Griezmann who executed a delicate lob over a hapless Mandanda in the most cold-blooded fashion.


From that point on Atletico gained a stranglehold on the game and suffocated the life out of Marseille. Florian Thauvin failed to produce his best and Lucas Ocampos showed off plenty of neat touches and tricks but, ultimately, failed to find the right final ball in the areas where it mattered.


Substitute Kostas Mitroglou had a header crash back off the inside of the post in the 80th minute which represented Marseille’s last chance.


Atletico captain Gabi completed the night with a well-struck finish in 89 minutes – again Griezmann was involved. Girezmann played a ball into Diego Costa and the brutish striker forced his way into the box before squeezing the ball back to Gabi who beat Mandanda for Atletico’s third of the evening.


It is the Spanish side’s third triumph in the competition in it’s short ten year history. Their attentions will now turn summer recruitment and trying to resist offers from Europe’s superpowers for their key players.


Jan Oblak has also been subject to speculation with several teams on the lookout for a world-class goalkeeper. There is also the matter of a job opening at Arsenal and the increasing likeliness that there will be another one at Chelsea. Diego Simeone will be a manager in high demand after claiming his sixth trophy as manager of Los Rojiblancos in a typically controlled fashion in France.




Liverpool title chase a lost cause with a bad defence


Saturday’s 3-2 home loss to Swansea saw Liverpool’s season in a microcosm. While breathtakingly entertaining, their weak backline became exposed. It’s the third time this season that The Reds have shipped three goals in a single game.


Jurgen Klopp’s side have already conceded 27 goals this season, more than five title winning sides conceded over a 38-game span. The average number of goals conceded by a title winning team is 32 and Liverpool are set to go over that number, probably by some distance.


Having based their recent title-tilts on attack over defence Klopp’s Liverpool is now facing the same problem as Brendan Rodgers’ did during their 2013/14 title charge. Liverpool conceded 50 goals that season while scoring an almighty 101. Winners City conceded 13 less while scoring an equally impressive 102 goals.


The Reds’ erratic defending has heaped pressure on their forwards. Starting as they meant to go on their opening day clash with Arsenal saw them roar into a 4-1 leading midway through the second half only to hang on for dear life as their defence capitulated allowing Arsenal to get the score back to 4-3 with just 15 minutes remaining. While many praised Liverpool for not buckling while The Gunners attempted to stage a great comeback the bigger issue at hand was that Liverpool could not go an entire season conceding at that level. Unfortunately, the issues that plagued them in August are still there in January.


Klopp has invested in his back line with the additions of centre-backs Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan as well as goalkeeper Loris Karius to provide competition for Simon Mignolet. While Matip shows signs he will develop into a very good centre half Estonian international Klavan remains a liability at the back. Klopp has turned to James Milner to help fix their problem at left-back with Alberto Moreno lacking positional sense. Neither Karius or Mignolet cuts a figure of a shot-stopper who can be the backbone of a title-winning side.


Only twice has a team lifted the Premier League when conceding at least 40 goals – Manchester United on both occasions. Liverpool have conceded at least 40 goals for six straight seasons and look odds on to make that reach seven.


Swashbuckling attack has never been an issue for Liverpool with them able to match the very best when going forward. Klopp has moulded an exciting array of firepower but what his side lacks when compared to front-runners Chelsea, and the great Manchester United sides of years gone by, is organisation at the back with solid defenders and a world class goalkeeper. For all their brilliance going forward the method simply is not sustainable.


Liverpool’s approach at times could often be labelled as chaotic – perhaps much like their brilliant German manager. Their attack so fast and furious the opposition can’t have a moment to breath, head-spinning speed and movement and in Saido Mane they have a forward with power as well as pace. Their chaos is a double-edged sword however, transferring to their backline where The Reds all too often scramble around making it painfully obvious that their organisation and communication is a huge weak spot.


For the next few transfer windows Klopp’s objective should be clear: get better defenders. Dejan Lovren has not recaptured his form which earned him a move to Liverpool from Southampton, James Milner, while having an outstanding season at full-back, is more there out of necessity due to Alberto Moreno’s ineffectiveness. Nathaniel Clyne has been solid in his right-back role and, along with Milner, is their most consistent performer in defence.


Klopp has certainly brought his “heavy metal” football to Anfield, his vision is starting to take shape to the joy of spectators but their lack of solid foundations at the back is what has always been, and continues to be, their undoing.