Europa League: Lookman’s hat-trick ends Leverkusen unbeaten run, ends Atalanta 61 years wait for trophy

Europa League: Lookman’s hat-trick ends Leverkusen unbeaten run, ends Atalanta 61 years wait for trophy

Super Eagles forward Ademola Lookman ended Bayer Leverkusen’s astonishing run of 51 games unbeaten run on Wednesday night as Atalanta ended their 61-year wait for a trophy with an Ademola Lookman-inspired victory in the Europa League final.

The German champions arrived at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium as big favourites after winning the Bundesliga title for the first time in their 119-year history, dropping just 12 points in the process.

But their quest for a historic treble was thwarted by a bullish and energetic performance from Atalanta, who bounced back from last week’s Coppa Italia defeat against Juventus to claim their first-ever European trophy.

Lookman, once of Charlton Athletic, was the star of the show, with his blistering first-half brace setting the Italians on their way before he completed his hat-trick late on to secure a 3-0 win.

 Leverkusen faced heavy pressure from the very start of the contest and looked as though they might still have been suffering a hangover from their weekend celebrations, where they were crowned unbeaten Bundesliga champions.

Several uncharacteristically sloppy passes were pounced on by Atalanta’s high-pressing frontline, but they could not quite find a killer touch in the final third. That changed in the 12th minute.

Lookman swung in a deep corner, which was only half cleared, and Atalanta neatly recycled possession before Davide Zappacosta burst into the box and fired in a dangerous low cross. Lookman had snuck back into the penalty area and was on hand to smash the ball into the roof of the net to spark wild scenes of celebration.

Leverkusen still struggled to get a foothold in the game after going behind, particularly without an orthodox frontman, while Atalanta’s work rate and pressure were relentless.

 

Another errant pass from the Bundesliga champions produced Atalanta’s stunning second goal; The electric Lookman collected the loose ball, nutmegged Granit Xhaka, and then lined up a rasping, curling shot that found the bottom corner.

It took until the 34th minute for Leverkusen to finally click in an attacking sense, with some excellent one-touch football releasing Alex Grimaldo, but he got his lob attempt all wrong despite Juan Musso being in no man’s land.

Xabi Alonso brought on striker Victor Boniface at the break to try and change the flow of the match but Atalanta’s energetic pressure was still the defining factor. They were now countering with more confidence and precision, too, and Piero Hincapie was forced to make a vital clearance to keep his side in the contest.

Slowly Leverkusen’s possession started to tell, with Atalanta having to withstand longer and longer periods of sustained pressure, though the German side struggled to carve out any real chances of note.

 Just as Atalanta fans might have been getting a little nervous, the tie was put to bed by Lookman. Another powerful tackle, another speedy break, and suddenly the Nigeria international was one-on-one. He dropped a shoulder, pulled out a stepover, took a touch, and rifled a thunderous left-footed effort into the top corner. Game over.

Even Leverkusen could not muster a comeback from three goals down with barely 10 minutes left on the clock and Alonso seemed to have one eye on Saturday’s DFB-Pokal Cup final as he withdrew a number of his star players.

For Atalanta, the win is the crowning achievement of manager Gian Piero Gasperini who masterminded a dominant display against Europe’s most in-form team. After 61 years, their trophy drought is finally over.