Atletico Madrid would have been forgiven for forgetting what the Europa League had felt like, given they spent four straight years in the Champions League, reaching the Final twice in that period. But despite dropping back into the former, Los Colchoneros have shown that isn’t the case, and on Wednesday they’ll be contesting their most important game for some time, when they face Olympique Marseille in Lyon.
Indeed, you’d have to go back to the 2016 Champions League Final for Atleti’s last watershed encounter. On that occasion, it was Diego Simeone’s future on the line, and although the Argentine watched his side lose to arch-rivals on penalties, the allure of leading Los Rojiblancos into Wanda Metropolitano and more funds becoming available convinced him into staying put. Fast forward two years later, and Los Rojiblancos reportedly have a fight on their hands to keep Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann has been every inch the talisman for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad in the summer of 2014. However, the fact remains his only silverware with the side is a Supercopa in his first season, and with ambitions of breaking the Messi-Ronaldo hegemony in European football, the 27-year-old has every right to question whether his current employers can match them. As it were, the Frenchman only stuck with the Madrid outfit due to their ban on registering new players last summer.
That’s what makes Wednesday’s showdown at Parc Olympique Lyonnais even more paramount. Similar to how victory over Athletic Bilbao in the 2012 Final acted as the catalyst to Atleti’s epochal era under Simeone, a repeat outcome against Marseille will not only re-establish Los Colchoneros’ reputation on the content, after a year that saw the likes of Roma and Liverpool steal their thunder, but also give them their winning feeling back.
Traveling to Lyon? Over 90 percent of hotels are sold out in Lyon for May 16, according to French website Allovoyages.fr. However, you can still find a few rooms available for under €200, such as the Quality Suites Lyon in the 7th district, or the B&B Hotel Lyon Centre Part-Dieu, close to the corresponding railway station. The stadium in Lyon is located in the east of the city.
If you decide to spend an additional day in Lyon, you should definitely visit the main attractions - Lyon has a couple of UNESCO heritage sites, such as the Place des Terreaux and the Cathedral of Saint John. TravelMag.com also has a few other recommendations.
“Griezmann? He’s aware of what’s at stake, in his homeland,” said Atleti President Enrique Cerezo in the build-up. “He has more enthusiasm than anyone. Simeone? He’s No 1 in Europe and the world, and I’ve never asked him about any incidents in a match. Neither of them will leave.” Providing Simeone’s men return from Lyon with the trophy, Griezmann may well have second thoughts about leaving, while it will only serve to solidify the Coach’s position.
Equally, the sheer importance of what happens in Lyon could have grave implications for the capital outfit as it may prompt Griezmann to pursue a big-money transfer to Barca and possibly Simeone to keep more than one eye out for any elite vacancies. Thankfully, Atleti have treated the Europa League with the respect it deserves, and that trend should continue on Wednesday.