Atalanta win Europa League as Lookman hat-trick ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Atalanta;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Atalanta</a> celebrate with the trophy after beating Bayer Leverkusen.</span><span>Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP</span>

Nothing, not the Roman Empire, not the Zhou dynasty, not even Last of the Summer Wine, lasts for ever, and neither did Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten run. After 51 games, their pursuit of a flawless season came to an end at the penultimate hurdle as an ­Ademola Lookman hat-trick, the first in a one‑legged European final since Pierino Prati in 1969, gave ­Atalanta a surprisingly compre­hensive victory and their first trophy in 61 years.

After all the talk of the emergence of Xabi Alonso as one of Europe’s most promising young coaches, it was an experienced old hand who took the laurels. At 66, Gian Piero ­Gasperini has his first silverware, a moment of tangible success in a career that has been spent per­forming a highly impressive job out of the limelight. They beat Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield, then Marseille 3-0 in the home leg of the semi-final; nobody can say this was not deserved.

Related: Bayer Leverkusen’s Amine Adli: ‘We can’t remember what’s it’s like to lose’

“Winning with Atalanta is one of those footballing fairytales that rarely crop up,” Gasperini said. “It gives scope for meritocracy: there is still scope for ideas and doesn’t have to come down to cold, hard money.”

He made a point of recalling the dreadful weeks of 2020 when the city of Bergamo was devastated by the Covid panic. “We won’t be able to do away with all that pain,” he said, “but we have put a smile on the face of the Bergamasco people.”

That talk about Alonso was not wrong: winning the Bundesliga with any side other than Bayern Munich is a remarkable feat, and all the more so to do it the way he has, but here his side were rattled out of their stride by Atalanta’s organisation and the dynamism of Éderson and Teun ­Koopmeiners in particular.

“We were prepared for one-on-one duels all over the pitch but we weren’t able to impose ourselves,” Alonso said. “It’s painful but it’s deserved as well.” For once, the late surge didn’t deliver; at the last, Leverkusen ran out of comebacks.

There was a sense the Europa League was made for this: two teams who have had excellent seasons, both playing bright, vibrant football, given a stage on which to enjoy a grand European night. For the fans of both clubs, there was a palpable excitement just to be here; for them the experience of finals has not become a cloyingly familiar routine as it can seem to have become for fans of the giants.

Well as Atalanta played, Leverkusen didn’t help themselves. Their start was oddly nervy, possession too often squandered, and that allowed Atalanta to build a rhythm.

Lookman’s first was the result of a bizarre moment of doziness from Exequiel Palacios who ­dithered as Davide Zappacosta crossed, ­apparently unaware there was anybody behind him, allowing Lookman to steal in front of him, his surname serving as an admonition to Palacios of what he should have been doing.

“Nobody imagined he could make this much progress,” Gasperini said. “He wasn’t overly prolific in ­England. I played him in a slightly more ­attacking role and this season he’s had a great year. Tonight he achieved something that will remain in the annals of football history.”

Lookman spoke of the “calmness” of Bergamo and the “intensity” of Gasperini who, he said, had “sim­plified” the game for him to allow him to “look at my game in a different light and take it to a new level”.

The first goal stemmed from a blend of Leverkusen laxity and ­Lookman excellence and the second was similar as he gathered a loose ball, cut infield, nutmegged Granit Xhaka (who experienced his first defeat since Arsenal lost at Nottingham Forest a little over a year ago) and whipped a perfect finish inside the far post.

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Given the run they are on, Lever­kusen are not the sort of side to panic at being two behind. It was, after all, the fourth time it had happened in this Europa League campaign – and it was one fewer goal to pull back than Alonso had faced the first time he won a European competition. His equivalent of Didi Hamann, the substitute thrown on at half-time in Istanbul in 2005 to transform the game, was ­Victor Boniface.

But it made little difference. Lever­kusen had plenty of the ball in the ­second half, but struggled to build real pressure. And then with 15 ­minutes remaining came the coup de grace. Gianluca Scamacca, in his ponderous way, led a break and ­shovelled a pass to Lookman, at which point the game abruptly sped up as he cut on to his left foot and smashed a ­triumphant finish into the top corner.