At the start of the season, seeing Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta Bergamo compete for a title seemed incongruous. Nicknamed “Neverkusen” for its propensity to systematically miss the mark, year after year, the German club has a reputation similar to that of “Dea”, whose trophy cabinet has been desperately awaiting new occupants since the European Cup. Italy 1963 (with the exception of three second division crowns). But, on Wednesday May 22, at 9 p.m., in Dublin, one of the two teams will taste the flavor of a European victory, during the Europa League final.

However, they will not really present themselves on an equal footing in the green Erin. Because if Gian Piero Gasperini’s men were true to themselves – despite themselves – by letting the Italian Cup slip away, against Juventus Turin, a week earlier, it’s difficult to remember that Bayer won nothing there. a few more months ago. It’s quite the opposite: the “Werkself” (the “factory eleven”) is still undefeated in this 2023-2024 financial year, winning everything in its path, including its first German championship title.

With the Bundesliga in hand, Xabi Alonso and his troops do not want to stop there. “When you go to the final, you don’t go there to make up the numbers, you go there to win it. We will try to make one last effort,” explained the determined Spaniard on the eve of the match. They will even have to do two, since Bayer is still in the running for a potential treble and will play the German Cup final on Saturday, against Kaiserslautern.

Present in front of the press alongside his coach, defender Jonathan Tah also did not discuss his future vacation. “At some point in the summer, on the beach, we will realize what happened. But, now, we are still in the present. » If nothing seems to be able to resist their Germans in search of their 52nd and 53rd matches without defeat of the season, Atalanta appears as an ideal candidate to end this series. In great form and victorious in seven of their last nine meetings in all competitions, the Bergamasques are carried in Europe by their striker Gianluca Scamacca, who scored in each round during the final stages.

Bayer after Liverpool and Marseille?

The Marseillais know something about this, they who fell 3-0 in the semi-final second leg against the Italians (4-1 over the two matches). Liverpool too. In the previous round, the Reds, huge favorites in the competition, suffered a defeat in the first leg, losing 3-0 in front of their home crowd (3-1 overall). A playful team, sometimes to the extreme, Atalanta does not intend to deny itself on Wednesday. “We need everything to stop Leverkusen, not just defense. This is our philosophy: we attack with ten and we defend with ten,” explains its captain, Berat Djimsiti.

The defender assures him: there are “no favorites” in this final. An opinion shared by Xabi Alonso, during the traditional pre-match courtesies. “[The Bergamasques] know what they want and are successful in Italy and in Europe, they have a great coach and great players. It will take tactics, intelligence and mentality. » Author of an almost perfect career since his arrival in North Rhine-Westphalia in October 2022, the ex-Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder remembers the previous season, and the short elimination of his team in the semi-final against another Boot club, AS Rome (1-0).

This year, he has planned everything, even preparing his troops for penalties. “You never know,” underlined the Spaniard, recalling that the last three editions of the Europa League ended with a perilous penalty shootout. Faced with the insolent success of Bayer, Gian Piero Gasperini surely hopes that it will not come to that.