Atalanta defeat Leverkusen and win the UEL championship

The 26-year-old Ademola Lookman performed one of the greatest European performances of all time when Atalanta BC defeated Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in Dublin to win the 2023–24 Europa League

(Football news) The recently crowned Bundesliga champions defeated numerous opponents en route to an unprecedented 51-match unbeaten run in all competitions when they hit the field at the Aviva Stadium. However, it only took one former Charlton Athletic player to completely destroy them.

It was only the sixth major UEFA final in which a hat-trick was achieved, and Xabi Alonso’s meek men were second best all evening, losing to a magnificent Lookman treble as the unbeatable Italians broke their 61-year drought without winning another cherished title.

Not since the 1962-63 Coppa Italia – their inaugural major trophy – had La Dea hoisted a top-level piece of silverware aloft, but Gian Piero Gasperini’s men deservedly conquered the second-tier continental tournament, ending Leverkusen’s hopes of achieving Invincible status in all competitions this season.

While the much-coveted talent Florian Wirtz was passed fit to start for Bayer Leverkusen, Alonso peculiarly went without a proper number nine, leaving both Patrik Schick and Victor Boniface on the bench as Jeremie Frimpong started in a more advanced area.

Alonso’s selection calls did not pay dividends whatsoever, as Gasperini’s Atalanta BC outfit took control of proceedings from the off, suffocating the Bundesliga champions with their well-executed press.

The Italians’ barnstorming start was rewarded in the 12th minute, when ex-Chelsea full-back Davide Zappacosta pulled the ball back across the six-yard box and to the back stick, where Lookman caught Exequiel Palacios sleeping, got goal-side of the Leverkusen midfielder and slotted home.

A handful of Dea coaches could not help but briefly invade the Dublin field in ecstasy, and Leverkusen’s attempts to string a build-up sequence together were futile, barring a pop from semi-final hero Josip Stanisic in the 19th minute, which fell straight at Juan Musso’s feet.

Normal service quickly resumed, and history was made for Lookman in the 25th minute; Leverkusen cheaply lost possession inside their own half, the Nigeria international cheekily nutmegged Granit Xhaka and found the far corner from 20 yards with aplomb.

In doing so, Lookman became the first African male player to score more than one goal in a major UEFA final, and a lacklustre Leverkusen side could not muster up a response before the break, although their affinity for astounding comebacks meant that Atalanta could not breathe easy.

Prior to their jaunt to Dublin, Leverkusen had drawn three and won one of the four games where they found themselves two goals behind this season, and the introduction of Boniface for Stanisic at half time was no shock; meanwhile, Giorgio Scalvini replaced the injured Sead Kolasinac for La Dea.

The lion’s share of possession in the early period of the second half belonged to Leverkusen, but the German champions were still found wanting in terms of their final ball, while a succession of poor set-pieces did not help their cause either.

Credit where credit was due to Atalanta’s staunch rearguard action and unwavering pressure, and as the 75-minute mark struck, Atalanta had the firmest grip possible on the crown thanks to their hat-trick hero.

Again, Leverkusen were their own worst enemies with some sloppy play inside the Atalanta half, allowing Gianluca Scamacca to lead the counter charge before the Italy striker laid off Lookman, who shifted the ball onto his left, jinked past Edmond Tapsoba and completed a terrific treble with an arrowed shot into the far top corner.

Die Werkself’s nightmare in Dublin was summed up by the VAR room’s decision to reject a relatively strong protest for a Leverkusen penalty in the 90th minute. Lookman was thrown into the air by his blue-and-black-clad teammates as the full-time whistle sent Dea into a frenzy.

As they get ready for Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final against Kaiserslautern, a stunned Leverkusen can still finish the campaign with a domestic double. Meanwhile, champion Atalanta still has two Serie A matches left to play, against Torino on May 26 and Fiorentina on June 2, before the real party can start.

Also read: Bayer Leverkusen will play Atalanta in UEL finals


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