A look at 5 key Marseille players in the Europa League final
LYON, France (AP) Marseille will be relying on a spectacular but error-prone shot-stopper in goal, a scoring winger and an exquisite passer against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
Here are five Marseille players to keep an eye on in the final in Lyon:
Steve Mandanda, voted the French league’s best goalkeeper this season, is experienced at club level and has played 26 times for his country.
But while the 33-year-old France international has superb agility and can make improbable saves, he is also prone to lapses in concentration and has been known to fumble shots and crosses.
Marseille will hope Mandanda has one of his inspired days against Atletico.
Veteran center half Adil Rami makes up for a severe lack of pace with rugged man-marking and uses his good heading ability to cut out crosses and corners.
Before making it as a professional, Rami was employed by his local municipal council as a gardener. Those days of getting up early to forge a living have instilled a fierce work ethic in Rami, making him a natural leader in the team.
The 32-year-old Rami, who has made 33 appearances for France’s national team and previously won the Europa League with Sevilla, will be watched by girlfriend Pamela Anderson.
Luiz Gustavo has arguably been the signing of the season in the French league.
The Brazilian midfielder joined from German club Wolfsburg and immediately impressed with his tackling, reading of the game, positional sense and passing.
Gustavo is an inspirational motivator on the field and rarely loses the ball. He also has a fine shot from distance and has chipped in with useful goals.
But Gustavo, who has made 41 appearances for Brazil, is so versatile he slotted in effortlessly at center half when Marseille had injury problems in defense. He played so well at the back that coach Rudi Garcia even considered keeping him there.
Atletico Madrid has one of Europe’s best goalkeepers in Jan Oblak and one of the toughest and most well-organized defenses. That is why Dimitri Payet, the French league’s best passer, will be so important.
Payet’s probing passes from midfield, and exquisite delivery from free kicks and corners, have helped Marseille score several important goals during the knockout stages.
Payet also has a wonderful eye for goal when the mood takes him, as he showed for France at the 2016 European Championship and in the return leg against Leipzig in the Europa League quarterfinals.
Payet is also extremely skillful on the ball and can release dangerous passes in a flash.
Florian Thauvin was named among the top four players of the season in France, but he may feel aggrieved at only finishing third.
The 25-year-old winger is quick, whether over short distances or running from deep, and is a superb finisher. He has scored 26 goals in all competitions this season and created another 16 for his teammates.
Thauvin’s signature move is cutting inside defenders and then bending a curling shot in from outside the penalty area, in a style reminiscent of Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben.
He is also hard-working, regularly tracking back to help his teammates, and good in the air for his size. He forms a dangerous pairing with Payet, and they intuitively feel how the other plays.
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire