UEFA Europa League Trophy. Courtesy of UEFA
The stage is set for the Europa League final this Wednesday (2:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) as Marseille and Atletico Madrid go head-to-head for glory.
The odds are stacked in the Spanish side’s favor (Atletico -124, Marseille +430, Draw +251) ahead of kickoff, as Diego Simeone’s men have justified their status as favorites to lift the UEFA Cup since dropping into the tournament from the Champions League in December.
Neither side approaches the match in top form, that’s for sure, and while Atleti have cemented a place in the Champions League next season, the same can’t be said of their opponents. Indeed, OM look likely to finish the Ligue 1 campaign in fourth after they could manage only a draw last time out, and as such would miss out on the Champions League.
The French outfit’s best chance of a return to the big time, then, is a victory over their La Liga counterparts, and as such the reward is greater for the underdogs in Lyon. — Martin Laurence
Under the Hood
Atletico Madrid are one of the great defensive teams of this generation. This year in La Liga they’ve conceded only 20 goals. That’s nine fewer than anybody else in the league. It’s also an amazing 14 goals stingier than their expected goals (xG) conceded total of just over 34. That total is also the lowest in Spain, four fewer than that of the second-best defense Getafe. That exceptional defense covers for a more average attack that has scored 56 goals, sixth-most in La Liga, and a total that slightly flatters their more mediocre underlying attacking numbers. Atletico generated just under 49 xG, which was good enough for 10th in Spain’s top flight.
In France, Marseilles’s goals have mostly tracked with their expected goals. According to Michael Caley their expected goals scored rests at 77, and conceded at 41, so they’ve been slightly unlucky defensively to concede the 46 goals they have allowed, while they’re right where they should be in attack with 78. Those totals put them near the top of Ligue 1 in attack, only PSG, Lyon and Monaco have scored more, while they’re slightly more mediocre in defense with their 46 goals making them the eighth best defensive team. — Michael Goodman
Marseille’s success is built on the backs of a couple of brilliant attacking midfielders. Florian Thauvin has been the breakout star of the season in France. With 22 goals and 11 assists, he does absolutely everything that this Marseille team needs, operating both as their most consistent goal-scoring threat and creator in the final third. He’s complemented by Dimitri Payet, who has a team-best 13 assists to go along with six goals. These two will try to find time and space on the ball to pick out a moment of brilliance that carries the French side.
Atletico is used to denying those moments. They will happily pack all their outfield players within 35 yards of their own goal to deny Thauvin and Payet space. When they break out, it will be by dribbling past the first line of defense, oftentimes deep in their own territory before playing the ball forward to star strikers Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa. Griezmann and Costa are a lethal duo when running in space, and their danger on the break is part of what allows Simeone set his team up extremely defensively. Atletico are happy to invite pressure, because they’re so good at handling it. — Michael Goodman
Sweating out bets is what makes gambling fun (most of the time). Betting the game by itself or the total is a good enough time, but sometimes the most joy can be had by betting the player and team props within the game. You also can sometimes find some gems while doing this and it can make the events within the game even more important. One of the best prop bets within a soccer match involves betting on how many corner kicks a team will take during a game.
Atletico Madrid is one of the best teams in the world. They have reached this level over the years thanks to their defensive prowess and their ability to shut down shop. However, this approach means they will concede possession to good opponents at a higher frequency than the other great Spanish sides such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Over their last six games in the Europa League — which consists of two-legged matches in the Round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals — Atletico has conceded just three goals. Interestingly, during this same period they have given up an average of more than six corner kicks per game, and it’s a trend that has grown each step of the way, which is understandable as the competition they faced has increased in difficulty.
Atleti have not had the most difficult path to the final, but they’ve still shown a penchant for giving up corners because most of the time they grab a lead and are happy to cling to it and rely on their defensive structure.
They are facing a Marseille team that gets fantastic play from out wide and, as Michael said above, leans on Payet and Thauvin. This strategy lends itself to generating quite a few corners. I think Atleti will get their early lead and that will result in Marseille taking quite a few corner kicks as the game progresses. Over 4.5 corners is available at +125. — Sean Newsham
Atletico Madrid have been the favorites to lift the Europa League trophy since entering the tournament in the Round of 32. At that time, the Spanish club was listed at +400 to win it all, their longest odds of the competition. Now that they’ve reached the final against Marseille, they’re massive -300 favorites, giving them a 75% chance to win the title.
Marseille have been a bit of an underdog story as their odds were +3000 entering the Round of 32. They were still as high as +2200 after the first leg of the quarterfinals before coming back to beat RB Leipzig. In the final, they’re listed at +240 to hoist the trophy, a 29.41% implied probability.
There’s been significant line movement in both directions since odds opened for the Europa League Final two weeks ago. Atletico Madrid started out at -143 at Pinnacle and -140, but dropped down to -125 within a couple days. After those initial moves toward Marseille, the line shot up to -170/-175 before crashing back down to -120/-125, where it currently stands.
Atletico Madrid have received roughly 50% of the bets, but sportsbooks have clearly seen some great all-around action in terms of money wagered. Marseille were once available at +625 to win in regulation, but they’re down to +420.
A bet that most people ignore when it comes to tournament finals is the draw, which is being offered at +260. With such a low total of two goals and only 13% of tickets on the draw, that’s where I’m seeing the contrarian value. — Dan McGuire
Players to Watch
To my mind, Atletico are somewhat stumbling to the finish line this season and star man Griezmann’s purple patch faded some time ago. That said, the Frenchman is a man for the big occasion and will undoubtedly remain the side’s chief goal threat.
Countering Marseille’s confident attack will be just as pivotal, however, so the likes of Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey’s work rate and stamina may be crucial, not to mention the at-times-unbeatable Jan Oblak in goal.
It usually takes something special to beat the Slovenian keeper, so Marseille will look to Payet for the spectacular finishes that he is more than capable of producing. Thauvin has been a revelation in front of goal, too, although less influential in Europe to now, but there’s no question that OM are far inferior to their opposition from a defensive standpoint, and that may well be decisive. — Martin Laurence
One of the great cliches in soccer is that you “can throw the book out the window in a cup final.” Sure, a one-game final brings with it a ton of variance, and anything can happen in one game. But by the time a team gets to this point we have a full season’s worth of information to utilize.
I think both teams have enough in them to score. As Sean and Mike were saying, Los Colchoneros have no problem ceding possession and organizing themselves defensively. So I expect Marseille to have most of the ball and Les Phoceens will hope they can buy space for Thauvin and Payet by spreading the game out wide. I know Atleti are masters at defending, but I think a moment of magic isn’t too much to ask from Marseille’s two talismen.
On the other end, I think Atletico’s two offensive dynamos — Griezmann and Costa — will provide trouble for the French side’s backline. The question is, how many opportunities will they get? I envision this one ending 1-1 after 90 minutes before being decided in extra time (and hopefully not penalty kicks).
What We’re Betting
Goodman: Atletico and under 2.5 goals
Laurence: Both teams to score
Newsham: Over 4.5 corners (+125), Under 2 goals (+125)