3️⃣ questions ahead of the Europa League final ❓ | OneFootball

3️⃣ questions ahead of the Europa League final ❓ | OneFootball

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Padraig Whelan·22 May 2024

3️⃣ questions ahead of the Europa League final ❓

Article image:3️⃣ questions ahead of the Europa League final ❓

On Wednesday night, the first of the three big European trophies will be handed out as Bayer Leverkusen take on Atalanta in the Europa League final.

Here are three of the biggest questions ahead of their meeting in Dublin.

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Are Leverkusen inevitable?

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you will be aware that newly-coronated German champions Bayer Leverkusen are just two games away from one of the greatest seasons in football history – if not the best.

Last weekend, they became the first team in Bundesliga history to go an entire season unbeaten and now face four big days of destiny as they aim to claim continental glory before facing Kaiserslautern in the DFB Pokal final.

First up is the Europa League final where they will look to exorcise some of the ghosts of their last taste of the big European occasion when they were defeated by Real Madrid and that Zinedine Zidane goal in the 2002 Champions League final.

They are big favourites as they aim to add a second Europa League/UEFA Cup to the cabinet and when you look at how they have preserved their undefeated run, particularly in this competition, it is hard not to think their name is already etched on the trophy.

Twice against Qarabag they looked dead and buried in injury-time. Against West Ham it was the same story. In the semi-final they trailed 2-0 to Roma in the closing stages. On each occasion they found a way back.

Defeat has never been an option. Is victory inevitable?

The trophy they deserve?

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Were it not for Leverkusen’s fairytale season, there’s a good chance that all neutrals would be backing their opponents on Wednesday. Even then, there will be plenty hoping to see the trophy make its way to Italy.

Over the last decade or so, they have became one of the most entertaining teams to watch, evolving constantly, and capturing the hearts of many across Europe.

They were just minutes away from a Champions League semi-final during the Covid era before PSG broke their hearts at the death. It was something similar in 2018 against Dortmund in the Europa League.

This has been a provincial club for much of their history who are punching so far above their weight and living through their club’s golden era. After all, no team has been promoted from Serie B to the top flight more and they have won just one major honour: the Coppa Italia in 1963.

A sleepy town in the shadow of Lombardy powerhouse Milan, Bergamo also suffered horrifically during the pandemic which resulted in the deaths of so much of the city’s population.

For the torment they have been through and the joy their football team has brought both home and abroad, few would begrudge the newest Atalanta entertainers this glory.

Experience or youth?

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There could not be a bigger contrast in the dugout than that between the respective coaches leading their sides.

Xabi Alonso, at 42 years and 179 days, is the hottest young coaching commodity in the game and fans of Die Werkself can look forward to him leading them again next year after turning down interest from abroad to remain.

He will be the youngest man to coach a side in a European final since rookie boss Roberto Di Matteo led Chelsea to Champions League glory against Bayern Munich 12 years ago.

In the other corner is La Dea’s Gian Piero Gasperini, who at 66 years and 117 days will hold the distinction of being the oldest coach to take charge of his first ever European final – and a man who has led Atalanta to victory in both legs of a European tie against Leverkusen before, coming in 2021/22.

All he is missing to go with all of the plaudits he has received over the last eight years is something tangible: a trophy.

Will his years of experience trump Alonso’s youth in Ireland’s capital?