Pat Nevin: 'They have swash buckled their way to the edge of glory'
Pat's thoughts on the Final of the UEFA Europa League.
This has been a great season to watch football on the telly, from the Premier League twists and turns to Chelsea’s incredible run to the Champions League final it has been very hard to call. Maybe the easiest thing to call was that Spanish teams have gone on to dominate the Europa League. The attitude throughout has been superb from the La Liga sides from the start and it has to be said the two most deserving sides find themselves in the final this week in Bucharest.
Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid, lets just call them Bilbao and Madrid from here on in as otherwise it could get pretty confusing, have been cutting a swathe through Europe as they swash buckled their way to the edge of glory. For all Chelsea’s fantastic performances against Barcelona to get to the other European tournament final, it was built on phenomenal defending. The same cannot be said about Bilbao and Madrid, they are attacking, attractive sides who stress inventiveness and skill.
For this reason there is a rightful expectation that this could be a classic game shown live on Channel Five on Wednesday night. I am really looking forward to being there, even if the last two games I have been at were the FA Cup Final and Old Firm classic last week. I will not be even slightly surprised if the game in Bucharest tops both of them in terms of quality at least.
It is hard to look anywhere else first than at the centre forwards for both Europa League finalists. Bilbao’s main man is Fernando Llorente, while Madrid have Falcao who has already won a Europa League winners medal from last season at Porto. At Five we have majored on Bilbao and although they have been our pet team since they disposed of Manchester United I must say I do like the style of the opponents.
For all the excitement about Falcao, he is helped hugely by the three men just behind him; Diego, Turan and Adrian Lopez. Lopez is the one who benefits most from the centre forwards’ considerable presence and his ability to find space and score from the ‘number ten’ position is a huge concern for Bilbao. For any pedants out there, I do know that he wears number seven, but he does play as a classic ten.
Will Bilbao change their system to try to stop these dangers? Actually I would suggest there is no chance whatsoever of that happening. Bilbao will play their usual 4-1-4-1 and anyone who has watched them on Five over the past few months will know the attacking midfield Basques are pure quality as well.
Muniain gets much of the attention because of his youth but Susaeta is just as important and just as dangerous. It is one of those games where you do not expect 0-0 and that isn’t in the least down to poor defences but because of the number of top quality attackers on display.
Which brings us nicely to Llorente who is clearly one of the top centre forwards in the game. All you have to do is watch the build up play when he laid on a fabulous goal in the semi final to know that this is a very special talent indeed. The drag back and pass was a skill only a handful of players on the planet would have thought of and delivered at that precise moment under pressure. His own winning goal in the dying moments just underlined he is another natural scorer who needs little more than a half chance to put the ball in the net. I just hope he is fully fit and not tired as it has been a long season for him. Like many others on show for this showpiece, he will be desperate to give one last big performance before the big decisions are made for the Spanish national side at the Euros.
That is however for the future, this game is clearly the biggest for these teams this season and all attention will be focused on it. The question remains, who are the favourites? Of course there is very little between them but I suspect the smart or maybe the safer money is on Atletico Madrid, but I wouldn’t be putting my mortgage on it. Don’t be surprised if it goes all the way to extra time with plenty of goals throughout. It would certainly be a fitting end to Fives’ football coverage.
My first game for Channel Five was way back in November 1997 and we have had some crackers over the years but I think I can honestly say that I haven’t looked forward to many of our games more than this one. The one that jumps to mind that was extra special in the build up was Atletico Madrid v Fulham in the final a couple of years back. It turned out to be a great night, even if it had the wrong result in the end from our point of view. This time I will own up to a slight preference for Bilbao, but if Madrid win I will not be too disappointed after all they also play the game the ‘right’ way.
It may sound old fashioned but may the best team win and as for the viewers just sit back and enjoy it, I know I will.