Atalanta’s Gasperini Stands In Way Of Alonso’s Rise In Europa League Final

In Wednesday’s Europa League final, Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso can establish his place as a rising coaching star, but he will face Gian Piero Gasperini of Atalanta.

Alonso has turned down offers from former teams Liverpool and Bayern Munich to stay in charge of Leverkusen after leading the club to its first Bundesliga title with an unparalleled spotless season.

The German champions haven’t lost in 51 games in all competitions and might complete an incredible treble in two finals this week.

Leverkusen are heavy favourites to defeat second-tier Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on Saturday.

However, they have a much more difficult job in Dublin against Atalanta, who could also have their best season in history.

Atalanta, a minor club from Bergamo, has long been overshadowed by adjacent heavyweights AC Milan and Inter Milan.

They are, however, experiencing a golden age under Gapserini, and will compete in the Champions League for the fourth time in five years next season.

However, they have constantly missed out on a trophy to commemorate an era of punching above their weight.

Atalanta has not won any silverware in 61 years, having lost three Coppa Italia finals in the last six seasons, the most recent against Juventus less than a week ago.

“Is it the highest point of my career? Yes, in terms of accomplishment and prestige, absolutely,” Gasperini told on reaching the club’s first ever European final.

“I don’t think winning a cup is necessarily always part of the parameters by which success is judged. Everyone has their own goals. When you manage to exceed them by far, as has happened at Atalanta, you still have to be very satisfied.

“If we also manage to add a cup, of course, we’ll be even more satisfied.”

The 61-year-old said Atalanta’s “world has changed” since he took over eight years ago.

Back then just surviving in Serie A was a success. Now continental football may be commonplace, but they have enjoyed two of their finest-ever nights in knocking out European giants Liverpool and Marseille on the road to Dublin.

 ‘Golden letters’

Gasperini’s willingness to take risks with an attacking brand of football and nurturing young talent has earned the admiration of Alonso.

“He has a clear plan and built up a team with strong mentality and high quality,” said the Spaniard. “They are a top team. We’ll have a chance if we produce our best form.”

However, Atalanta must produce something extraordinary in Dublin to halt the Leverkusen juggernaut.

In contrast to Gasperini’s humble playing career in the lower echelons of Italian football, Alonso was a World Cup and Champions League winning midfielder with extensive experience in European finals from his playing days.

Despite having played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, he has never had a season like this before.

“It would be historic,” said the 42-year-old on the possibility of going the season unbeaten in all competitions.

“It would be something written in golden letters, not only in the history of our club but probably all European football. I hope we can.”

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