Lookman hat-trick drives Atalanta to Europa League title and end Leverkusen’s run

By Samindra Kunti in Dublin

May 22 – Ademola Lookman’s hat-trick stunned Leverkusen 3-0 to lead Atalanta to the Europa League crown and the Italian club’s first-ever continental silverware, ending the German champions’ dream of a treble and a perfect season.

Leverkusen had gone 51 matches unbeaten, earning praise for Xabi Alonso’s managerial skills and the club’s resistance to Bayern Munich’s hegemony in Germany, but on Wednesday in the Irish capital, Lookman, formerly of Everton and RB Leipzig, destroyed the Ruhr team with a brilliant hat-trick.

Lookman is the first player to score three goals in the final of Europe’s second-tier club competition since Jupp Heynckes for Monchengladbach in 1975. It was a dream night for the 26-year-old and his club, who demolished their invincible opponents from the start.

Behind the goal, Atalanta fans ratcheted up the noise levels as their team began the match on the front foot and received a handsome 12th-minute reward for their fast start when Lookman exploited Exequiel Palacios’s ball-watching inside the box from a Davide Zappacosta assist.

All pics Stephen Gormley

The favourites Leverkusen had fallen behind again in this competition. Cue more rearguard action from the Germans that had served them so well against Qarabag, West Ham United and AS Roma?

With their energetic style, Atalanta demonstrated that they had everything to end Leverkusen’s unbeaten season and quest for a historic treble. In the cagey spell that followed, the Germans tried to establish a foothold, but before they knew it Lookman got the better of them again with a brilliant 26th-minute strike, 2-0. The Super Eagle drove at the German defence, opened his body and curled a sensational shot into the bottom-right corner.

Leverkusen were stunned and down 2-0 for the fourth time in the knockout stages. Was there any coming back from this?

With Atalanta in full control, it seemed an unlikely scenario, even if Alex Grimaldo had a sight of goal in the 35th minute. The number 20 however mistimed his chip. At the other end, Belgian youngster Charles De Ketelaere fizzed a low shot toward goal on the stroke of half-time, a gentle reminder that Atalanta were not far away from delivering a knockout blow.

Alonso’s team couldn’t deal with Atalanta’s pressing, intensity and positional play. They had 45 minutes left to rescue their final and keep the dream of a treble alive. The Spanish manager reacted by bringing on Victor Boniface, who arrived last summer from Belgium’s Union.

The German champions improved, spending more time on the ball and probing this way and that. That newfound dominance did not translate into opportunities until Jeremie Frimpong failed to keep his volley low.

The introduction of both Robert Andrich and Adam Hložek brought more fresh legs, but the clock was ticking for Leverkusen. Meanwhile, Atalanta didn’t reproduce the pace and intensity from the first half, but perhaps it wasn’t needed either. For all their possession, Leverkusen mustered little in the final third.

Instead, Lookman decided the final with another wonder strike in the 75th minute. If his second goal had been crisp, he saved best for last, smacking the ball into the top corner. At long last, Leverkusen were on the canvas. Bergamo had a new hero and the best-run club in Italy a new trophy.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1719304384labto1719304384ofdlr1719304384owedi1719304384sni@i1719304384tnuk.1719304384ardni1719304384mas1719304384