Europa League final: Bayer Leverkusen start as favourites but Atalanta are hungry for silverware

May 22 – It may not be the grand farewell for Jurgen Klopp that Liverpool fans had hoped for, but Atalanta or Leverkusen will be crowned Europa League winners on Wednesday in the Irish capital. 

In the last eight, the Italian side took the scalp of Liverpool with a remarkable 3-0 first-leg win at Anfield to end the hopes of the Merseyside club for a victorious finale for Klopp, who managed his last Liverpool game on Sunday in the Premier League. Atalanta eliminated Olympique Marseille in the semis to feature for the first time in the showpiece match of UEFA’s second-tier club competition.

They, however, won’t be favourites against Bayer Leverkusen, freshly crowned German champions who went through the Bundesliga season unbeaten. The Ruhr club can win the German Cup on Saturday as well. En route to Dublin, they overcame West Ham United and AS Roma and frequently coming back from behind to rescue the tie in a testimony to the great resilience that has characterised their remarkable season.

“What matters above all is mentality,” said Alonso. “We have a gameplan but the players still have that wonderful atmosphere from the title celebrations on Saturday and we want to tap into that.”

“Losing in last season’s semi-final is a huge motivation; we have already spoken about how things felt last season. We were very close to the final. We have harnessed this disappointment to our benefit.”

At the same time, forwards Charles De Ketelaere and Gianluca Scamacca are hitting peak form for Atalanta. Even so, last week, the club from Bergamo lost the Italian Cup final against Juventus but they have secured passage to next season’s Champions League.

Manager Gian Piero Gasperini said: “We know we are playing against a strong team. Their numbers and performances speak for themselves. They are well organised and always find solutions. But we have already met many tough teams this season, so there is no lack of self-confidence.”

The Italian manager also had plenty of praise for his Leverkusen counterpart Xabi Alonso, who was linked with a move to Liverpool earlier this season.

“It’s great what he has done. He will undoubtedly have had many offers, but it is an example for football that he stays. You never know when the right time is to go, we don’t have a crystal ball. Whether this is a good time for me to leave? They say the timing is only right when you win something, so not now. But I live in the present, not the future,” said Gasperini.

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