For the two enfant terribles in the recent history of the Premier League, this Europa League final threw up two sorely contrasting evenings.
For Diego Costa, the pitbull of a striker that terrorised Antonio Conte and endured six weeks without pay as he began his season in hiding in his Brazilian hometown, this became a night to justify all his mumbling and grumbling.
After escaping Chelsea, he is back home with the club he adores, the manager, Diego Simeone, who he respects above all and a trophy in his hands once more. He is now certain to form part of the Spain squad at this summer’s World Cup.
As for Dimitri Payet, the dazzling playmaker that stole the hearts of West Ham supporters before tearing them apart, this was a night of heartache.
Payet, the Marseille captain, has a similar story to Costa, a similar attachment to a club where he is now in his second spell and he arrived in Lyon yearning to clutch the trophy. As he walked out before the game, Payet committed one of football folklore’s well-established sins, touching the trophy as he passed it by.
Bad luck, that, they say, and so it proved here.
Payet saw his team fall a goal behind when Antoine Griezmann profited from an error in the first-half and disappointment turned to agony when he pulled up with a muscular injury shortly afterwards. As he departed the field, tears spilled down his face and with France set to name their World Cup squad on Thursday, the omens do not bode well for one their most gifted individuals.
His French international team-mate and opponent on the night Griezmann consoled Payet on his way off, caressing his cheek and kissing him on the forehead.
Payet had been nursing a thigh injury in the lead-up to the game but insisted in a press conference on Tuesday that he was fit and ready to shine. It is, sadly, a gamble that spectacularly backfired. Payet is now 31 and this was almost certainly his last opportunity to compete at a World Cup.
Fuelled by the adrenalin shots pumped from the terraces, Marseille’s players appeared emboldened. They snapped into challenges, harrying Atletico’s skilful operators such as Angel Correa and Saul Niguez into errors. Inside the opening five minutes, the French side should have taken the lead.
Former Newcastle winger Florian Thauvin, enjoying a remarkable renaissance at Marseille after a torrid time in England, combined beautifully with Payet to carve the Atletico defence open. Valerie Germain was through on goal but his strike was wild and over the bar.
On such misses, European finals are often decided and Atletico are not a side that generally allow opponents too many clear sights of goal. Payet let fly from distance but the movement on the ball did not deceive Jan Oblak in the Atleti goal.
Soon enough, Atletico grew into the game. They began to enjoy more of the territory and shortly after the lead followed.
They held Arsenal at arms’ length in the semi-finals of the competition and here they showcased defensive resilience, organisational nous and a killer instinct.
Diego Simeone may have been watching on from the stands – he is still banned from the dugout following his touchline tirade at the Emirates Stadium – but his side are so assured, so cool in how they manage a football game that his absence from touchline became a footnote.
This, remarkably, was the club’s fourth European final in Simeone’s seven years in charge. The Argentine has overseen two Champions League final defeats by Real Madrid but his team previously overcame Athletic Bilbao to lift the Europa League in 2012. Despite this season’s group stage failure in the Champions League, Atletico remain one of the most dangerous and brutal sides on the continent.
For all the attacking potential in this Atletico side, it was a gift of a goal to hand the Spanish side the lead.
Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda played a loose pass from the back and Andre Zambo Anguissa miscontrolled the ball. Atletico’s Gabi swiftly pounced, releasing Antoine Griezmann who sat Mandanda down and stroked the ball into the goal.
Atletico’s fans responded with their own display of sparkly red pyrotechnics and Griezmann, whose own place in the starting line-up had been question by some sections of the Atletico support amid rumours of a move to Barcelona, provided the perfect retort. The Frenchman is a brilliant forward, who combines inspiration and perspiration, making sacrifices for his team while still retaining the ability to conjure moments to define games.
Matters soon became worse for Marseille, as Payet exited the play and in doing so, the pizzazz seemed to leave both the team and those in the stands. The ‘Allez’ choruses became less effusive and Atletico sensed weakness.
Early in the second-half, victory was assured, as Koke slipped a pass through for Griezmann, who clipped a sublime pass over the goalkeeper. If this is to be his farewell, he could hardly have designed it better. Marseille briefly rallied, hitting a woodwork and warming Oblak’s hands but Atletico were always in control and confirmed the triumph when captain Gabi rifled home a late third.
MATCH FACTS, PLAYERS RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE:
MARSEILLE XI: Mandanda, Sarr, Rami, Gustavo, Amavi, Zambo, Sanson, Thauvin, Payet (Lopez 32), Ocampos (N’Jie 55), Germain (Mitroglou 74).
Subs not used: Pele, Sakai, Kamara, Rolando.
Bookings: Amavi, Gustavo, N’Jie
Manager: Rudi García
ATLETICO MADRID XI: Oblak, Vrsaljko (Juanfran 46), Gimenez, Godin, Lucas, Correa (Thomas Partey 88), Gabi, Saul, Koke, Griezmann (Torres 90), Costa.
Subs not used: Werner, Filipe Luis, Savic, Gameiro.
Goals: Griezmann 21, 49; Gabi 89
Bookings: Vrsaljko, Lucas
Manager: Diego Simeone
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland)
EDITED FROM: dailymail.co.uk