Weblog: The football punter

Atletico experience to count in tight final

Europa League final
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Wednesday

Atletico Madrid have suffered two Champions League final defeats in the last four seasons but they have a 100 per cent record in Europa League finals (winning in 2010 and 2012) and their big game experience makes them solid odds-on favourites to defeat Marseille at the Groupama Stadium in Lyon.

The Europa League often throws up a surprise finalist and Marseille have defied the odds by taking advantage of a kind draw.

Rudi Garcia's side have not had to face any of the teams occupying the top six positions in the pre-knockout stage betting - Atletico, Arsenal, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Milan.

And they have relied a lot on a strong set of results at the Stade Velodrome, where they won each of their four knockout-stage home fixtures by at least two goals.

Marseille are fourth in Ligue 1, one point outside the top three going into this weekend's final round of matches.

They are a point behind third-placed Lyon, who occupy the last of the three Champions League qualification berths, and missed a big opportunity on Friday - drawing 3-3 at mid-table Guingamp

With a top-three finish looking unlikely, there is extra pressure on them to beat Atletico and guarantee a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14.

Marseille's progress to the final has been a team effort with winger Lucas Ocampos leading their Europa League scoring charts with just four goals.

Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin have weighed in with three goals each and are the main creative influences but Marseille lack a world-class spearhead.

Valere Germain and Kostas Mitroglou have largely shared centre-forward duties but neither has reached double figures in the French top flight this season.

A bigger danger to Atletico could be pacy supersub Clinton N'Jie, who came off the bench to score the crucial second goal as Marseille triumphed 2-0 at home to Salzburg last month's semi-final, first leg.

The problem for Marseille is they are up against the best defence in Europe.

Atleti have conceded the fewest goals in La Liga in each of the last two seasons and are a few days away from making it three from three because their 2017-18 Spanish top flight goals-against tally (20), is nine fewer than the next best, champions Barcelona, who have conceded 29.

Atletico have performed several outstanding rearguard efforts over the last few years and gave a defensive masterclass in the semi-final first leg at Arsenal - drawing 1-1 despite losing right-back Sime Vrsaljko to a tenth-minute red card.

They also impressed in the second leg against the Gunners - winning 1-0 and conceding just one shot on target despite losing the pass count 439 to 355.

When they overcame Arsenal, it would have felt like they had one hand on the trophy.

Three days later they lost 2-0 at home to Espanyol in La Liga, although that was understandable given the massive mental and physical effort expended against the Gunners.

Apart from defending well against Arsenal, Atletico benefited from moments of world-class finishing from Antoine Griezmann - their scorer at the Emirates - and Diego Costa - the match-winner in Madrid.

Costa only joined the club in January but has quickly developed an understanding with Griezmann and their partnership is going from strength to strength.

However, Costa's signing hasn't turned Atletico into a free-scoring side and they will be more than happy to be on the right side of the fine margins against Marseille.

Of Atletico's 33 wins this season, 26 have been in matches featuring three goals or less.

Another low-scoring success is on the cards in Lyon, with Atletico set to get their hands on the trophy for a third time in nine years.

Atletico Madrid to win and under 3.5 goals

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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.