Players who have a crucial role in Domestic Cup finals across Europe
Saturday 30th May 2015 will be a day where players’ names are etched into history. Four cup finals from Europe’s top five leagues will be played out this weekend, where heroes are set to be made. With that in mind, WhoScored.com have picked out four players from each cup final that can play a key role for their respective team as they do battle for silverware.
Arsenal vs Aston Villa - Leandro Bacuna
Rather than focus on the easy targets of Alexis Sánchez or Christian Benteke, we have opted to look at how Leandro Bacuna can affect Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley. Deemed a backup by Paul Lambert, the Dutchman has made a starting spot his own under Tim Sherwood, capitalising on Alan Hutton’s injury to nail down a place in the Aston Villa first team. Since ousting the Scotsman at right-back, Bacuna is now perhaps one of the most important players in Sherwood’s starting XI.
Bacuna registered 5 assists in the Premier League this season, 4 of which were for Benteke goals. Only Cesc Fàbgreas to Diego Costa (6 goals) was a more profitable combination in England’s top tier. The Villans’ best route to goal since Bacuna came into the side was to attack down the right and rely on the 23-year-old’s crossing ability to pick out Benteke in the opposition penalty area. Arsenal need to be wary of this to limt his influence in the capital this weekend.
Yet, while his offensive output may be crucial, Bacuna will have his hands tied when he comes up against Alexis. However, having gained a statistically calculated WhoScored strength of ‘defensive contribution’, the former Groningen youth academy product is capable of keeping the Chilean at bay. Benteke and Jack Grealish may be stealing the plaudits at present, but Bacuna will be crucial for Villa at Wembley.
Borussia Dortmund vs Wolfsburg - Henrikh Mkhitaryan
After a storming debut season for Borussia Dortmund, things turned sour for Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his second campaign with Die Schwarzgelben. 3 goals and 4 assists in the Bundesliga was a far cry on the previous season (9 goals and 10 assists), though the Armenia international appears to have rediscovered his form just in time for the DFB-Pokal final.
2 goals and 4 assists in his last 6 league appearances, including 3 WhoScored man of the match awards, suggests Mkhitaryan is hellbent on giving Jurgen Klopp the send off he deserves.
Saturday’s cup final meeting with Wolfsburg will be Klopp’s last fixture at the Dortmund helm as he moves onto pastures news following a mixed campaign at Signal Iduna Park. The Dortmund players, therefore, will be keen to secure silverware at the Olympiastadion, not just for themselves, but their departing manager and it’s Mkhitaryan who has a key role to play in the encounter.
Much of the focus ahead of the cup final will be on Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne, who ended the campaign with more assists (20) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
However, ‘Micki’ comes into the encounter in the midst of a purple patch of form. Only Filip Kostic (8.40) gained a better WhoScored rating of all Bundesliga players to feature in at least 3 of the last 6 league games of the season than Mkhitaryan (8.00), reflecting what was a hugely impressive end to the campaign for the ‘Armenian Zidane’.
Auxerre vs Paris Saint-Germain - Marco Verratti
A win for Paris Saint Germain here would see the Parisian giants scoop a domestic treble having already secured Coupe de la Ligue and Ligue 1 glory. Revenge is also on the cards for PSG, who fell to a late defeat when these two teams met in 2003 Coupe de France final, a match Auxerre won courtesy of a late Jean-Alain Boumsong volley.
The Ligue 2 side, however, come into this fixture on the back of a turgid run of form having failed to win any of their last 7 league games.
It’s a stark contrast to Laurent Blanc’s side, who won each of their last 7 Ligue 1 games of the campaign as they head into the Coupe de France final as overwhelming favourites. Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the danger men, but Marco Verratti is the man Auxurre must keep tabs on if they are to harbour any hopes of coming away from the Stade de France with victory.
Only Ibrahimovic (7.75) secured a better WhoScored rating than Verratti (7.59) of all PSG players this season, with that figure his highest since joining the club in 2012.
Verratti played the most accurate passes (2652) in Ligue 1 this season and it’s his ability to retain possession to an extremely high standard (91.5%) that Auxerre need to be wary of. His 17 accurate through balls were bettered only by Dimitri Payet (21) in France’s top tier this term, with the young Italian boasting a keen eye for a defence splitting pass that helped him register an impressive 8 assists.
If the Auxerre midfield can frustrate the 21-year-old, who received more yellow cards (12) than any other player, AJA stand a much better chance of landing domestic glory, with Verratti central the to Parisian’s in their efforts to land a 9th Coupe de France title.
Athletic Club vs Barcelona - Aritz Aduriz
After finishing the season atop of La Liga, Barcelona are now hoping to secure Copa Del Rey glory. In a repeat of the 2012 final, the Blaugrana’s opponents are once again Athletic Club in Saturday's showdown at Camp Nou.
Given Barcelona’s form of late, and that of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar - more commonly referred to as MSN - Luis Enrique’s side understandably come into the encounter as favourites. However, while the attack are expected to fire on all cylinders, it’s the defence that needs to be wary of who they are set to face.
Aritz Aduriz recently enjoyed his finest season to date for Los Leones netting 18 league goals and registering a further 4 assists as Athletic narrowly missed out on European qualification through the league, though have guaranteed themselves a place in next season’s Europa League by progressing to the domestic cup final.
If they are to end a mixed campaign on a high, they have the opportunity to do so this weekend, though that will be easier said than done against the Primera División champions. Nevertheless, with Aduriz at the peak of his game, Athletic have a chance to upset the odds.
In his last 10 league appearances of the season, Aduriz directly contributed to 11 (9 goals and 2 assists) of Athletic’s 17 goals, with the experienced frontman currently in electric form, though it’s his strength in the air that will pose Barcelona problems. Enrique’s side has developed a statistically calculated WhoScored weakness of ‘aerial duels’, a strength of Aduriz’s.
The 34-year-old won more aerial duels (186) than any other player in La Liga this season and maximising this quality of this game will be Athletic’s best chance of securing victory this weekend. It may not be pretty, but it can be effective against Barcelona. If Athletic look to play the Blaugrana at their own game, chances are the league champions will come away from the fixture victorious. With an in-form Aduriz spearheading the offensive, however, Athletic have what it takes to come away with the win.