Lyon (AFP) – As Atletico Madrid and Marseille prepare to meet in the Europa League final in Lyon on Wednesday, AFP Sport looks at five men who will have a crucial role to play for their respective sides:
There is constant speculation about the French striker’s future and a possible move to Barcelona at the end of the season, but Griezmann is hoping to win a first major trophy as an Atletico Madrid player on Wednesday and avoid another painful defeat following the loss on penalties to Real Madrid in the 2016 Champions League final.
Griezmann has scored 27 goals in all competitions this season, including a crucial counter away to Arsenal in the semi-finals. Now he is hoping to overcome Marseille — the club he is said to support — in a final that will be played in Lyon, a short drive from where he grew up.
“Griezmann is one of the best attackers in the world and he’s capable of anything,” warned Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.
Florian Thauvin might be Marseille’s main goal threat this season — he scored their opener in the first leg of the semi-final against Salzburg — but Payet is the most likely to strike fear into the Spaniards.
The 37-times capped France playmaker’s fitness has been the biggest concern for Marseille fans in recent days, and they will have been pleased to hear him say he is fine after a minor muscle injury prevented him from playing in their last league game.
His eye for a pass and ability at a dead ball make the ex-West Ham United man the biggest star in Rudi Garcia’s side. And, crucially, he has managed to steer clear of major fitness problems in recent months.
“I’m in form. When you feel at your best physically, at 100 percent on the pitch, you can express yourself more freely and naturally,” Payet said on Tuesday.
German ‘Mono’ Burgos
Atletico coach Diego Simeone will be unable to orchestrate proceedings from the dugout as he serves a suspension following his sending-off in the semi-final first leg against Arsenal.
Without him, assistant ‘Mono’ Burgos will take charge of the team, just as he did in the second leg of that tie against the Gunners. It is a blow for the Spanish side to be without Simeone, and even Marseille coach Rudi Garcia lamented his ban, but Burgos is a big enough character to ensure the Argentine is not missed too much.
“I feel sad at not being there, but we have known each other for a lifetime and we understand football in the same way. I have confidence in him being in charge,” Simeone said.
The midfielder has been superb for Marseille this season since signing from Wolfsburg in Germany, but where he plays could be key.
Garcia has suggested that he could go with a three-man defence, and there is a good chance the Brazilian could again start at the back, just as he has done in recent European ties.
But can Marseille really afford to be without his influence in the centre of the park when it comes to the final?
Atletico’s defence is their major strongpoint, but the Spain midfielder has a big influence further forward. He could play off the front two of Griezmann and Diego Costa, offering the same kind of threat that saw him score the winner at Getafe in La Liga at the weekend.
“His hard work, dedication and talent have made him key for Atletico and the national team,” said Simeone of the 26-year-old.
“Tactically he reads the game better than anyone.”
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