Europa League Bayer Leverkusen’s Unbeaten Treble Spoiled by Europa League Final Loss to Atalanta

Ademola Lookman was unstoppable as Atalanta triumphed over Bayer Leverkusen with a decisive 3-0 victory in the Europa League final on Wednesday. This win shattered Leverkusen’s dreams of an unbeaten season and a hat trick of titles.

Europa League

Lookman, the London-born Nigeria international, was the star of the match, scoring a hat trick that left the German champions reeling. Leverkusen’s remarkable 51-game unbeaten run in European competitions came to an abrupt end against an Atalanta team that had previously stunned Liverpool with a 3-0 victory in the quarterfinals.

 

From the start, Lookman took advantage of critical errors by Leverkusen’s defense, netting two goals within the first 26 minutes. He sealed his stellar performance with a powerful shot in the 75th minute, completing his hat trick and securing the win for Atalanta.

 

This victory is especially significant for Atalanta and their veteran coach Gian Piero Gasperini. In an era dominated by big-money Super League clubs, Atalanta’s success story stands out. The club, hailing from a small provincial city, operates on a modest budget yet plays attractive soccer and boasts a loyal coach. This win marks their first top-level trophy in 61 years, making it a feel-good story for neutral fans.

Europa League

However, Atalanta’s triumph meant that they had to play the spoiler, denying Leverkusen a shot at European soccer immortality. Now, Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso faces the challenge of rallying his team for the German Cup final on Saturday, where they are favored to defeat second-tier Kaiserslautern at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

 

As the minutes ticked down in Dublin, Alonso stood alone in front of the team dugout, alternating between pushing his hands deep into the pockets of his slim-fit black jeans and folding his arms. In stark contrast, a sprightly 66-year-old Gasperini, clad in a black jacket zipped high against the evening chill, danced with his players and staff in anticipation of the final whistle.  Europa League

 

Alonso’s big selection call on Wednesday was choosing Exequiel Palacios over Robert Andrich in midfield. However, the 2022 World Cup winner with Argentina was at fault for the opening goal. Palacios, defending the far post, was unaware of Lookman behind him when a ball across the goalmouth from Davide Zappacosta eluded everyone. Lookman darted in on Palacios’ blind side to score with a rising shot.  Europa League

 

It was 2-0 in the 26th minute when Leverkusen once again gave away the ball in the heart of their own half. Amine Adli’s aimless header back toward his own defense bounced to Lookman. The former Everton player eluded Granit Xhaka’s tackle and curled his right-footed shot into the corner of the net beyond goalkeeper Matěj Kovář, who was diving to his left.  Europa League

 

This was the fourth time Leverkusen had trailed 2-0 in a Europa League knockout round game since March, but their unbeaten run had never seemed more at risk. The season-long flurry of late and stoppage-time goals eluded Leverkusen this time.

 

Even before Atalanta’s goals, fans from Bergamo—outnumbered about 12,000 to 9,000 by Leverkusen’s supporters in the 48,000-strong crowd—mostly outsang their German counterparts on an overcast and breezy evening in the Irish capital.

 

The players responded with physical commitment from the opening minutes, harassing Leverkusen out of their typically elegant style with tight marking.  Europa League

 

Leverkusen repeatedly gifted Atalanta the ball in their own half and created little. When scoring chances did come, Álex Grimaldo lobbed the ball weakly into the arms of goalkeeper Juan Musso, who had advanced off his line, and Jeremie Frimpong’s volleyed shot went high over the goal.

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