Key men in Club Atlético de Madrid's run to another UEFA Europa League final, on-loan pair Thibaut Courtois and Diego could be set to deliver the Rojiblancos the perfect parting gift.
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If Thibaut Courtois and Diego bid farewell to Club Atlético de Madrid at the end of the current campaign, then helping the Rojiblancos to victory against Athletic Club in the UEFA Europa League final will be the perfect parting gift.
Coming to the end of respective season-long loan spells from Chelsea FC and VfL Wolfsburg, the pair have been two of the most influential figures in the club's journey to the National Arena in Bucharest.
Courtois, who was immediately installed as first-choice goalkeeper following his arrival, has played the most minutes of any Atlético player in this term's competition – 1,170, keeping seven clean sheets – while Diego is top of the overall assists chart with six.
An Atlético triumph on Wednesday would be particularly sweet for the playmaker, who was suspended for the UEFA Cup showpiece three years ago when his SV Werder Bremen team lost against FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Now with a second chance to lift the trophy, the 27-year-old is determined to grasp it.
"Finals are special because you don't play them often in your career," Diego told UEFA.com. "You need to enjoy moments like these; it's a pleasure playing a match like this. It's a privilege and I hope to win it. That is the most important thing."
Twelve months after that disappointment for Diego and Bremen, Atlético defeated Fulham FC in the inaugural UEFA Europa League final. Five players who were in the squad that night in Hamburg – Antonio López, Álvaro Domínguez, Joel (currently on loan at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid), Luis Perea and Paulo Assunção – are still with the club, experience which Courtois believes could be vital against their Liga counterparts.
"It's important that those guys know what it's like, and for me it's also good because if there is a problem they can help to solve it," said the Belgian international, who turns 20 two days after the final. "Experience is fundamental – it's important to have team-mates who have played in a final like this or a similar match."
The amount of playing time Courtois has been given this season will certainly stand him in good stead for the biggest night of his fledgling career. The former KRC Genk No1 has appeared in all but one of Atlético's league games and 13 of Los Colchoneros' 14 European fixtures since the beginning of the group stage.
"I have improved in every sense: in terms of my playing skills, the way I kick the ball," he said. "I have to continue developing everything, though – I'm only 19 and at this age you can still improve in every department."