Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao is a man in form ahead of the Europa League final.
Today's Europa League final in Bucharest is an all-Spanish affair between Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid. It's been an interesting season for Basque side Athletic who have been disappointing in La Liga but electrified the Europa League with some scintillating performances, notably in putting Manchester United to the sword over two legs. Fernando Llorente has been in outstanding form this season and fired attack-minded Athletic into the final with a goal two minutes from time against Sporting Lisbon. Atletico Madrid are on the brink of a stand-out season as they look to repeat their triumph of two years ago when they beat Fulham in the final. Diego Simeone's team, who have an outside chance of securing a place in next season's Champions League, dispatched another Spanish team, Valencia, in the semi-finals. Both teams have contributed to an entertaining Europa League and we have highlighted some of the best players on show in the Romanian capital.
Fernando Llorente, F, Athletic Bilbao
While the Basque club enter Wednesday night’s final as slight underdogs, Llorente’s goal scoring prowess can quickly change the game’s complexion. The 27-year-old has grabbed 17 goals this season, 10 of which came from headers, and will look to capitalize on service opportunities from Susaeta and Javi Martinez. As Bilbao’s focal point in Marcelo Bielsa’s ‘possession first’ system, Llorente will be keen to increase his transfer stock at Bucharest as a potential move to the Premier League is rumored to hang in the balance.
Iker Muniain, F, Athletic Bilbao
Earlier in the week, the young Bilbao forward promised to get the Europa League trophy tattooed on his body if the Basque club are to defeat Atletico Wednesday night. With five goals in 15 appearances Europa League appearances, the 19-year-old sensation represents a real threat to Atletico Madrid's defense in the open field. If the quick, strong forward breaks loose in attack, it will be a long night for Diego Simeone's club.
Gorka Iraizoz, GK, Athletic Bilbao
With one of the poorest defense's in La Liga this season, Bilbao's Iraizoz has saved 147 shots and conceded 49 goals (1.36 GAA) in 36 matches. Iraizoz has faced tremendous pressure all season long, but remains one of Bilbao's key figures Wednesday night. Bilbao's attacking style doesn't help Iraizoz, as the goalkeeper is often left to defend shots on his own. If Iraizoz carries his formin front of net Wednesday night, expect Bilbao to hoist the Europa League trophy.
Radamel Falcao, F, Atletico Madrid
After lifting the Europa League title with Porto last season, the Colombian strker finds himself in another Europa League final with current club Atletico Madrid in 2012. Needless to say, Falcao's numbers are outstanding. He currently sits third in La Liga in scoring and boasts the second highest total of minutes played in the club (second only to Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois). Falcao's ability to hold the ball in attack, while creating his own scoring chances, could prove to be the difference in Atletico's changes against Bilbao.
Diego, M, Atletico Madrid
Diego (right) has certainly made his mark since joining Atletico on a season-long loan from Wolfsburg in September. The skilful Brazilian has failed to hit the heights since his prolific goalscoring spell with Werder Bremen but his impressive overall play has made him a regular in Simeone's starting XI this season. Possesses wonderful touch and all the tricks in the book. He could be the man to break open Bilbao's defense.
Diego Simeone, manager, Atletico Madrid
There's no denying that Atletico Madrid has benefited from Simeone's arrival last winter. With only one victory away from becoming only the third person to win the Europa League trophy as both player and coach, the former Argentina captain will go up against his former national team boss, Marcelo Bielsa. It will be interesting to see if Simeone utilize a three-forward formation against Bielsa's 'possession-happy' system. Simeone's tactical approach will ultimately be a deciding factor in the match.
Adrian Lopez, F, Atletico Madrid
After a slow start to the 2011-2012 campaign, the 24-year-old has turned his forturnes around with Los Colchoneros. Lopez grabbed an important goal in Atletico's semifinal match against Valencia at the Mestalla, and has firmly established himself in Atletico's starting XI since March. With rumors of a possible call-up to the Spanish national team come Euro 2012, expect Lopez to use the Europa League final as an audition platform to impress national team manager Vicente del Bosque.