Madrid. Bilbao versus Madrid, vertigo versus rigor, Marcelo Bielsa versus Diego Simeone: the Europa League final on Wednesday promises a fascinating football night.
Madrid and Bilbao are to send more than 20,000 fans to Bucharest, as the Romanian capital prepares to host the all-Spanish final. The city is set to be flooded in red and white, the colors that both teams share.
The teams and many fans flew into Bucharest Monday, in more than 60 charter planes from Bilbao and Madrid. Several additional planes were to follow.
At Bucharest airport, one floor was reserved for flights from Bilbao and a different one for those from Madrid. Besides, the so-called “fan zones” (officially designated meeting points) are to be separate, as are routes to the stadium.
Athletic Bilbao are returning to a European final after 35 years, while Atletico Madrid seek a repeat of their 2010 success.
However, while Athletic has two shots at a title this season (they are also set to play the King’s Cup final), Atletico has to win in Bucharest if it wants to redeem itself in a season that would otherwise be “mediocre,” in the words of midfielder Gabi.
Bilbao wants to settle its score with the past, while Atletico seeks healing for the present.
“Our rivals are there on their own merit. They are a Spanish team, which also makes this whole league proud and shows the level we are both showing in this edition of La Liga,” Gabi said on Monday.
“We are going to be fighting a rival who has been doing things very well and who has found a philosophy that everybody likes, because they play very well. We know what is at stake for us.”
Two very different philosophies are set to be on the pitch.
While Athletic Bilbao remains loyal to its history and signs only players with ties to the Basque Country, Atletico has consolidated its latest project with huge investment in talents like Colombia’s Radamel Falcao and Turkey’s Arda Turan, among others.
And then there is playing philosophy, in which both teams share the Argentine origin but have different ways.
Bielsa managed to make many admire Bilbao for their style, for their unbreakable commitment to taking the initiative in every match.
They never cared who they were playing, and they always took a step forward. On the way, they delivered memorable performances against Manchester United, Schalke and Sporting Lisbon.
Atletico does not mind giving up possession of the ball or control of the match. They also make no big deal out of indulging in long passes, and they are keen on slow play. Up front, they know they can count on the dynamite of Falcao, Adrian, Diego or Turan.
However, one thing does define both teams equally: both feel confident near the opposition’s goal, and each suffers when the ball is close to its own.
All this foretells a spectacular match in Bucharest, an unpredictable clash in which goals are likely. For a few hours, the Romanian city is to be the center of the football world with two very different ways of looking at the sport.