Football News

Xhaka goes full Ozil as Leverkusen make history: Stats & stories you might have missed from Thursday’s Uefa action

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 9 May 2024

All three UEFA club finals have been confirmed.

Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have secured their place at the Wembley final on June 10.

However, the Europa League and Conference League finals will occur before that. On May 22, Bayer Leverkusen will face Atalanta in a Bundesliga v Serie A clash at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

A couple of days later, Fiorentina will try to avenge their loss to West Ham in last year’s Conference League final when they play Olympiacos on the Greek side’s home soil.

The last semi-finals were played tonight, making history and creating new stories. If you missed any important or memorable event, don’t worry – Squawka is here to get you up to speed.

The streak goes on

Josip Stanisic’s equaliser in the 97th minute couldn’t be more significant. Bayer Leverkusen, chasing a ‘treble’, are now 49 games unbeaten in all competitions, a modern European record. It looked for all intentions that Leverkusen’s streak would end when Leandro Paredes struck twice from the spot to give Roma a 2-0 lead and set the match up for extra-time.

A costly Gianluca Mancini own goal proved ultimately fatal for Roma, but even then, Daniele De Rossi was set to take a scalp by ending the Bundesliga champions’ unbeaten run. However, substitute defender Stanisic scored his second stoppage-time equaliser of the season — having done so last month against Borussia Dortmund –to ensure Roma would not enjoy a victory in defeat.

The goal was set up by Granit Xhaka, who throughout the match performed a fine impression of former Arsenal teammate Mesut Özil. Xhaka created 10 chances from open play, matching a record held by Juan Mata for the most produced in a Europa League match. According to Opta, Mata also created 10 open-play chances for Valencia against Club Brugge in February 2010.

For more context, the record for the most by a player in a single 90-minute Champions League or Europa League match is held by Özil, who managed 12 for Real Madrid during a 4-0 win against Spurs in April 2011.

The result means Leverkusen qualified for their third final in a major European competition after doing so in the 1987-88 UEFA Cup and 2001-02 UEFA Champions League. Head coach Xabi Alonso becomes the sixth different Spanish manager to reach a UEFA Europa League final, with five already being the most from any nation (Sánchez Flores, Benítez, Emery, Lopetegui and Mendilibar). Indeed, nine of the previous 14 finals in this competition have featured a Spanish coach in charge of one of the teams.

They’ll be dancing in the streets of Bergamo this evening

It might seem like a fever dream, but Carlo Ancelotti once managed Everton — although his tenure didn’t coincide with Ademola Lookman, another former Toffee looking to win some European silverware. The eight-time capped Nigerian international forward spearheaded Atalanta into a first major Uefa club competition final, an experience never enjoyed by La Dea before; in fact, they are the first Europa League final debutant since Ukrainian side FC Dnipro played in the 2015 edition.

Lookman opened the scoring before creating Matteo Ruggeri’s effort, which proved unassailable for Marseille, who conceded a third in stoppage time when El Bilal Touré came off the bench to score. The visitors remain winless in their last nine games against Italian opposition in European competition. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men also maintained a neat statistic. They’ve now progressed through five of their six knockout stage ties in major European competitions while avoiding defeat in the first leg away from home.

It’s All Greek to Me

Unai Emery, a serial winner of Uefa competitions, will not have a crack at the Conference League title but can round off a strong campaign by taking Aston Villa to next season’s Champions League, something very few saw coming. That said, Villa will be disappointed after getting this far; a shock opening-leg 4-2 defeat to Olympiacos ultimately became a bridge too far.

Ayoub El Kaabi, who netted a hat-trick in Birmingham, opened the scoring before adding another late goal as the Greek side ran out 2-0 winners, subsequently creating history. Olympiacos have reached the final of a major European competition for the first time in the club’s history. The only previous Greek club to do so was Panathinaikos in the 1970-71 European Cup (0-2 against Ajax).

José Luis Mendilibar’s men head into the final at nearby Athens, boasting 18 goals in the knockout stage of the UEFA Conference League this season, more than any other team. El Kaabi, meanwhile, registered his tenth strike in this season’s competition, the most of any player. Furthermore, the Moroccan marksman scored 12 goals in major European competitions this season (excl. qualifying), the most of any player in 2023-24.