Europa League Final Preview

The second tier club honour in Europe is coming to Spain. Get the showdown of the all Spaniard Final encounter with Debojyoti Chakraborty


Athletic Club (ESP) vs. Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP)

Arena Națională, Bucharest

May 9, 2012

14: 45 EST

19:45 GMT

00:15 IST (May 10, 2012)


This year the Europa League has been dominated by the reigning European and World Champions, Spain. The finalists, Athletic Club and Club Atlético de Madrid, have dominated the competition this time round – along with another semi-finalist from Spain, Valencia – and it is no surprise that we are set for an all Spanish Cup Final this year. It will be a good time for the less fancied Spanish duo when their more illustrious compatriots failed in the Champions League during the same week. They came through two contrasting semi-final ties. The giant killing Athletic Club, which accounted for Manchester United earlier, had to dig deep to see off a stern Sporting Lisbon side en route to their second ever European Cup finals. On the other hand, 2010 Europa League winners, Club Atlético de Madrid cruised past Valencia for a ticket to the final on May 9, 2012 in Bucharest. Last time an all Spanish final took place was in 2007, at the finals of Europa League (then known as the UEFA Cup), when Sevilla edged past Espanyol on penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 deadlock. It will be a huge occasion for the Marcelo Bielsa managed Bilbao side. Over and above their nail-biting semi-final tie which saw them through by virtue of a last gasp winner, it will be an emotional moment for the club which last made a European final appearance way back in 1977 only to be beaten by Juventus. Elsewhere, Club Atlético de Madrid had taken a huge step towards the final by virtue of a 4-2 first leg win. They merely finished the formalities by winning the return leg also by a solitary goal. They would like to repeat the performance of two years back when they won the competition. The two teams have been locking horns even before the inception of Spanish championships (in 1929) as they met in the Copa del Rey finals in 1921 where the Madrid side was beaten 1-4. This season though, they have won one apiece in La Liga.  They are difficult to separate in the league standings also as they lie side by side in sixth and eighth positions with only two points separating them. One of the most striking features of the Basque club, Athletic Club or Athletic Bilbao, is that all of its players are either born or received their training in the Basque Country and its provinces, a culture it has upheld since its inception. Marcelo Bielsa has really done wonders since taking charge in the last year. Apart from reaching the finals of Europa League and fighting for a European spot in the league, Bilbao has set up a Copa del Rey final clash with Barcelona on May 25. Bielsa likes to start with a pressing 4-2-3-1 formation which is changed to 4-3-3 at times. Gorka Iraizoz starts in the goal with Fernando Amorebieta and World Cup winning midfielder Javi Martinez as centre-half pairing. The full-back positions are occupied by Andoni Iraola and Jon Aurtenetxe. The holding midfielder role is given to Ander Iturraspe who has formed a potent partnership with the tireless and versatile Oscar de Marcos, playing in a slightly advanced position and given the freedom to venture forward whenever the opportunity arises. Inspirational striker Fernando Llorente is the focal point of attack. With seven goals in 13 appearances, this competition has been a successful one for him and he would definitely like to finish it on a high. He is flanked by Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta with playmaker Ander Herrera playing in the hole.

Bilbao pressing throughout

Club Atlético de Madrid is also helmed by an Argentine, Diego Simeone, and he favours a rather uncomplicated 4-5-1 formation. They have a 6’6” teenage Belgian shot-stopper in Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, who has really impressed one and all. The defence is marshalled by Diego Godin and Joao Miranda. They have a versatile right-back in Juanfran who can also operate on the right side of midfield. Left-back is occupied by Filipe Luis. Mario Suarez and Gabriel Arenas like to anchor the midfield and complement each other in going forward. The right side of midfield has been made his own by Adrian Lopez through his marauding runs and goal-scoring knack. He is matched in the opposite flank by Arda Turan. Diego Ribas is the most advanced of this compact midfield and he supports the lone striker – the man with the golden touch, Radamel Falcao, a perfect #9. Besides netting twenty-three goals in the La Ligain 31 appearances in his debut season, Falcao has scored an amazing ten times in 14 appearances in this continental cup competition. One of his trademark weapons has been his incredible spot jump to add power in the air despite not being that tall. He is no stranger to this stage though, as he smashed a record 17 goals last time en route to winning the trophy for Porto.

Compact midfield of Atletico Madrid

With two dangerous strikers upfront from each side and to continue with the high scoring La Liga pattern, the final is expected to be a high-scoring affair. But stakes are high and it won’t be wrong to predict the coaches to be slightly worried about venturing forward at will. Nevertheless, this should be a good spectacle with a slightly better defence giving the Madrid side an edge.

The Lion King

Today’s Page 3 brings the glamorous new look of El Rey León (aka The Lion King) – Fernando Llorente – the emerging star of Spanish F0otball. In the running season he scored 25 goals already in all competitions and helped his club Athletic Bilbao to reach the semi final of Europa. On the road to Semifinal he scored against Manchester United in both the legs and played a major role to send the British champions home. Check out his vintage avatar while he posed for Esquire.

UEFA Champions League & Europa League Quarter-Final Preview

Drama unfolds at the European competitions. Get the lowdown on each team and each tie with Debojyoti Chakraborty

The pre-quarter final matches of the Champions League and the UEFA Europa League have just got over. Champions League, in particular, has sprung in a pleasant surprise. For the first time, the quarter finalists have come from as many as seven different nations. With the most prestigious club team honour at stake, things cannot get more exciting than this. APOEL FC has continued their dream run and has thus become the first Cypriot club to reach this far in the tournament. The other teams in the quarter-finals have all reached the finals at least once, with Chelsea as the only club failing to embrace the glory. Spain, the current European and World Champions, have been dominant in club football also as they are the only nation with two teams alive in the competition – Barcelona and Real Madrid. Though pundits see them clashing in the finals, Bayern Munich will be no pushover either. Benfica and Marseille finish the line-up and they also will be tough nuts to crack. As the draws unfolded in Nyon, Switzerland on 15th March evening, Milan vs. Barca took the limelight. The other draws were equally interesting – and historic, too – as the sides have never faced each other before.

Similar draws were read out for Europa League, where none of the quarter-final opponents have faced each other before. Europa League, often considered the poor cousin of Champions League, had generated tremendous public interest due to the expectant clash of Manchester sides in the final. Strangely, both the teams looked out of depth and were eliminated in the Round of 16. There is a possibility of an all-Spanish or German final on 9th May, 2012 in Bucharest, as three teams from Spain and two from Germany are still alive in the competition. Teams from Netherlands, Portugal and Ukraine make the final line-up. One of them, AZ Alkmaar from Netherlands, would be locking horns against Valencia from Spain. Another Spanish side Athletic Bilbao will fancy their chances against FC Schalke 04 from Germany after knocking Manchester United out in the previous round. There is another Spain vs. Germany on the cards as defending champions Atletico Madrid will take on relative newcomers Hannover 96. Last but not the least, Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon, who accounted for the other Manchester club (Manchester City), would go on as favourites against the little-known Ukrainian club FC Metalist Kharkiv.

CL Match-ups

APOEL FC (CYP) vs. Real Madrid FC (ESP)

27th March, 2012 GSP Stadium, Nicosia (CYP) Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP) 4th April, 2012
Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Debutant to Knock Out Stage Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Winner – 9, Runners-up – 3

Round of 16

Round of 16

Olympique Lyonnais (0-1, 1-0; won 4-3 on penalties)

PFC CSKA Moskva (1-1, 4-1)

Group Stage | Group G Winner

Group Stage | Group D Winner

FC Zenit St Petersburg (H) 2-1 FC Shakhtar Donetsk (A) 1-1 GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 1-0 Olympique Lyonnais (A) 2-0
FC Porto (A) 1-1 FC Porto (H) 2-1 AFC Ajax (H) 3-0 GNZK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 6-2
FC Zenit St Petersburg (A) 0-0 FC Shakhtar Donetsk (H) 0-2 Olympique Lyonnais (H) 4-0 AFC Ajax (A) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

We had set it up, didn’t we? We had predicted an upset when APOEL was drawn against Lyon in the Round of 16, and they did oblige. Against Lyon they took full advantage of a second leg at home. But they must be credited for not getting bogged down by the occasion and keeping the tie alive after the first leg at Lyon. Their dream run continues and they have vindicated the observers who are calling them Team of the Season. The story does not change for them – they are entering the draw as underdogs, nobody is putting a penny on winning this. This time, we are also not too optimistic. Jose knows a thing or two about winning ties and APOEL can bask in the glorious memories of their achievements. Contrast it is! A debutant at this stage against a team with the most (28) number of quarter-final appearances. Real Madrid have continued their domestic form and have marched past CSKA Moscow in the Round of 16. They returned from freezing Russia with a very creditable scored draw and killed the game at their own backyard. Apart from a deadly forward line headed by CR7, they have conceded only four goals – least in the tournament – until now. They have been drawn against the little club from Cyprus who – in spite of their giant killing activities so far – was in everybody’s wishlist. With a comfortable lead over Barcelona in the La Liga, Jose Mourinho can concentrate solely on Europe. It will be a surprise if the tie is alive after the first leg, even though it is away from home.

Olympique de Marseille (FRA) vs. FC Bayern Munchen (GER)

28th March, 2012 Stade Vélodrome, Marseille (FRA) Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER) 3rd April, 2012
Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Winner – 1, Runners-up – 1 Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Winner – 4, Runners-up – 4

Round of 16

Round of 16

FC Internazionale Milano (1-0, 1-2; won on away goals)

FC Basel 1893 (0-1, 7-0)

Group Stage | Group F Runners up

Group Stage | Group A Winner

Olympiacos FC (A) 1-0 Arsenal FC (A) 0-0 Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 0-1 LOSC Lille Métropole (H) 2-1
Borussia Dortmund (H) 3-0 Olympiacos FC (H) 0-1 PFC CSKA Moskva (A) 3-2 Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 1-1
Arsenal FC (H) 0-1 Borussia Dortmund (A) 3-2 LOSC Lille Métropole (A) 1-0 PFC CSKA Moskva (H) 1-2

Talking Point

Talking Point

Marseille knocked Inter out of the Champions League in one of the most dramatic fashions. An away goal deep into the injury time paved way for them into the quarter-final. Inter Milan might consider themselves unlucky as they were the better team over two legs. But it must be remembered that the barely known players from Marseille had already caught the eyes of Europe through their pressing style of play and a compact defence. Again they enter a draw as being underdogs. Didier Deschamps has lifted the trophy with Marseille in 1993 as a captain; it is their only Champions League title till date.  He would surely like to emulate that feat as their manager this time. Bayern Munich has stormed into the quarter-finals by annihilating FC Basel 7-0 at home. A shock defeat at Basel in the first leg shook them up and Bayern responded with grit, determination, zeal and killer instinct – a typical German display one would say. Bayern will take a boost from the timely return of midfield lynchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger. Along with Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and Franc Ribbery, he will lead the pack which could be enough to see them past their French counterparts. There would be added incentive for Bayern as this year’s final showdown will take place in their own backyard on 19th May. Player by player, position by position, Bayern would score in almost all areas against Marseille. But strange things happen in football and Bayern should keep that in mind.

SL Benfica (POR) vs. Chelsea FC (ENG)

27th March, 2012 Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR) Stamford Bridge, London (ENG) 4th April, 2012
Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Winner – 2, Runners-up – 5 Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Runners-up – 1

Round of 16

Round of 16

FC Zenit St Petersburg  (2-3, 2-0)

Napoli (1-3, 4-1)

Group Stage | Group C Winner

Group Stage | Group E Winner

Manchester United (H) 1-1 FC Basel 1893 (H) 1-1 Bayern 04 Leverkusen (H) 2-0 KRC Genk (A) 1-1
FC Oţelul Galaţi (A) 1-0 Manchester United (A) 2-2 Valencia CF (A) 1-1 Bayern 04 Leverkusen (A) 1-2
FC Basel 1893 (A) 2-0 FC Oţelul Galaţi (H) 1-0 KRC Genk (H) 5-0 Valencia CF (H) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Benfica did incredibly well to top their Group and thus were handed a relatively easier draw against Zenit in the Round of 16. They did, however, survive the torturous weather of Russia and came away with two away goals. In the home leg, they were dominant and progressed to the quarter-finals after six years. They have to thank their well organized defence for their journey so far, but they have lacked a focal point in attack. As many as six players have been cored for them – this is good in a way that they are not relying on any one player for goals. With second leg away against a Chelsea side on the ascendency, they have to draw the first blood at Lisbon. Chelsea’s season reached its ultimate low just on the eve of crucial second leg in the Round of 16. An awful run of results in the Premier League brought about the sacking of their manager and interim caretaker man-in-charge Roberto Di Matteo had to overcome a 1-3 first leg deficit against Napoli. The old guards resurfaced with the much needed venom and John Terry, Franc Lampard, Didier Drogba – all ensured that Chelsea register a historic comeback win over their inexperienced European opponents. Chelsea, a rejuvenated side, are favourites entering into the quarter-final draw, especially after being fortunate enough to avoid some stronger teams. Roman Abramovich has seen Chelsea conquer everything in England and he hopes that Europe will not elude him this time with the current resurgence of form.

AC Milan (ITA) vs. FC Barcelona (ESP)

28th March, 2012 Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan (ITA) Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP) 3rd April, 2012
Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Winner – 7, Runners-up – 4 Top European Cup/ Champions League Honours:Winner – 4, Runners-up – 3

Round of 16

Round of 16

Arsenal (4-0, 0-3)

Bayern Leverkusen (1-3, 7-1)

Group Stage | Group H Runners up

Group Stage | Group H Winner

FC Barcelona (A) 2-2 FC Bate Borisov (A) 1-1 AC Milan (H) 2-2 FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 4-0
FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0 FC Barcelona (H) 2-3 FC Bate Borisov (A) 5-0 AC Milan (A) 3-2
FC Bate Borisov (H) 2-0 FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 2-2 FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0 FC Bate Borisov (H) 4-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Milan has been setting up the box office records for Champions League this season. After a Group league duel with Barcelona, they went past Arsenal at San Siro with much ease. Entering the second leg with a 4-0 lead, it was thought to be a cakewalk but 41 minutes into the match, they were tottering 0-3 down. Milan finally were able to see off the vibrant Gunners but their defensive deficiencies have been exposed time and again this season. Barring the last match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in all the CL matches he has played so far and Milan will hope that his form continues. Even so, Milan has to perform beyond expectations to beat Barcelona over a two-legged tie. Like their Spanish archrivals, Barcelona have also not been beaten this season in the Champions League. There is no stopping Lionel Messi as he piles up goal after goal, record after record – latest being a five goal gift to Nou Camp faithful against Bayern Leverkusen in the second leg of Round of 16 draw. With 3.5 goals per patch on an average, Barcelona have been in superb form all round – 10 different players feature in the score sheet with 11 various assist providers. Against Milan, in a re-match from the group stage, they are definite favourites. With the La Liga all but gone, Pep Guardiola will be even more eager for this trophy one more time, which could be his swansong. If they can hold onto their title, they will be the first team to do so since their opponent did it in 1989-90.