BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MAY 08: Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa gives instructions during the Athletic Bilbao training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League Final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the National Arena on May 8, 2012 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Atletico Madrid played a full strength team on the weekend and are still fighting for fourth place in La Liga. Athletic Bilbao have taken a different route, focusing on Europa League all year.
Athletic Bilbao have been focused on the Europa League for the entirety of the knockout stages. A top-four finish in La Liga was very much within reach for them this spring, and it was perhaps an easier route to the UEFA Champions League, but they have been more focused on potentially winning a trophy. Marcelo Bielsa has rested key players ahead of Europa League matches this season, including last week in La Liga.
Diego Simeone has done nothing of the sort with his Atletico Madrid side. They played their best team at the weekend and pulled off a huge win over Malaga to keep themselves in the race for fourth. Depending on Malaga's result at the weekend and their performance on Wednesday, Atleti could have two shots to clinch a berth in next season's Champions League.
Of course, that's a very far-off reward. On Wednesday, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will be playing for the immediate reward of a trophy. Like last season when two Portuguese sides faced off, two teams from the same country fight for the trophy once again after La Liga sides thoroughly dominated the competition.
For the second consecutive year, Radamel Falcao is participating in the final, and for the second consecutive year, he is the leading scorer in the competition. He is instrumental in almost every goal scored by Atletico, and if he is not on top of his game, his team will struggle against Bilbao. Athletic's key man is also arguably their center forward, Fernando Llorente. Along with young star Iker Muniain and a couple of other first choice player, he did not play on the weekend in anticipation of this game.
Silvio is out for Atletico and Juanfran will start at right back. Tiago is suspended, meaning Mario Suarez and Gabi are likely to start in the center of midfield. Defender Luis Perea is back from a recent injury. Athletic Bilbao have a mostly clean bill of health, but first choice central defender Fernando Amorebieta is a game-time decision. Mikel San Jose and Javi Martinez will be the starting central defense pairing if he is unable to play.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, May 9, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. CET
Venue: National Arena, Bucharest, Romania
TV: GolTV (USA), EuroWorld Sport (Canada), Channel 5 (UK)