It’s a case of familiar faces in this all-Spanish Europa League semi-final, as Atlético Madrid and Valencia go head-to-head with each other amidst a background of fiery encounters on both a domestic and continental level.
Over the years, both clubs have fought fiercely to be regarded as the best of the rest in Spain, but their paths have also crossed in this very competition before, as soon as 2009/2010 – when Atleti went onto win the trophy. A quarter-final meeting between the two was doused in controversy, as the first leg ended 2-2 before the second leg ended 0-0. The image of then Valencia striker Nikola Zigic having his shirt ripped – literally – and being denied a penalty is one that rankles with their fans until this day. Valencia hold the upper hand in terms of league meetings with 55 wins to Atleti's 51 from their 144 La Liga encounters.
Atleti host the game at the Vicente Calderón, and can be confident due to their impressive Europa League form. Since the 2-0 defeat to Udinese in the group stage they have embarked on a nine-game winning streak in the competition; Lazio, Beşiktaş and Hannover 96 have all been despatched in the knockout stages, and in turn the Spanish side have become the top scorers with 25 team goals. For the outright win they’re at 2.05, and if you expect more goals then it’s 1.86 for over 2.5 goals.
Diego Simeone’s arrival in December of 2011 marked a change at the club, as a bond was finally made between coaching staff, playing staff and the fans after a spell of turmoil. Simeone has made turned Atleti into a tough to beat animal, thoughtful in defence, hard working in midfield and lethal on the counter attack. If anything, Atleti now seem more equipped for knockout competition as they can lead teams into a false sense of superiority, withstanding large amounts of defensive pressure before pouncing.
Much of that key attacking work is down to Adrián, and more predominantly Falcao, the Colombian who has managed 8 goals in 12 in this season’s Europa League. He’s at 2.10 to score anytime, and 3.90 to open the scoring.
‘El Tigre’ as he’s affectionately named, is looking at Valencia as his next victim.
Valencia meanwhile are the only team left in the competition who fell out of the Champions League. Stoke and PSV were pushed aside before the struggled against more Dutch opposition in the shape of. However, a strong second-leg performance allowed the Spanish to move into the semi-final and the quality within the squad is certainly enough to make the final.
However, inconsistencies have blighted their season in every competition. Unai Emery, their coach, is a figure who divides opinion amongst fan and player. His pragmatic approach and caution have hindered the team at times, while a strong mentality seems to be lacking throughout the squad. Away from home in European competition, Valencia have managed just the 1 win from 9 games, with the other 8 consisting of 4 draws and 4 defeats. To back them not to score here, they’re found 10.00.
Emery’s facing his final games at Valencia, with departure at season end seemingly a certainty, and he’d love nothing more than finish the work done with a trophy for the demanding supporters. He is a tactically profound man after all, and he can still outwit the best of coaches. A recent draw against Real Madrid showed despite working with limited resources, he can still pack the punches. Also, the performance in the second-leg against AZ saw some fine football produced, both fluid and intelligent.
Adil Rami keeps charge of the defence, while Jordi Alba is the vibrant young talent wanted by half of Europe. Mehmet Topal is the enforcer in midfield and ahead of him Jonas and Roberto Soldado are the attacking outlets. It’s slightly curious that centre-back Rami is actually Valencia’s top scorer since joining the Europa League, with 3 goals. Soldado is 3.15 to score anytime, while Rami is 17.00.
Two coaches who like their teams to keep the defence tight and spring quickly on the counter go head-to-head, and it will be a case of who makes the first wrong move at the Calderón.
PREDICITION: A draw on this one, given both coaches style. Under 2.5 goals at 1.86 is decent.
BEST BET: 3.35 for the draw outright.