Josip Iličić, the linchpin at the heart of Atalanta’s UCL dream

ROVETTA 08-07 -2018- ATALANTA  CAMPIONATO SERIE A TIN 2018-19  .Alberto mariani - silpress

Atalanta’s 2018-19 Serie A campaign has been nothing short of a fairytale thus far, as the club currently occupies the 4th UEFA Champions League spot with just four matches remaining. The Goddess, led by Italian mastermind Gian Piero Gasperini, currently holds her destiny in the palm of her hand and, if the stars align, will play Champions League football for the first time next season.

Beyond the 61-year old’s craftsmanship in molding young talent, which reportedly is of grave interest to the Milan hierarchy, Atalanta’s surge this campaign has been ignited by a bastion of individuals – young, old and everywhere in between. Specifically, captain Papu Gómez and capocannoniere contender Duván Zapata have formed a “little and big” relationship that is compatible with Gasperini’s vision for a high-powered offense, but the creative juices of Josip Iličić have been flowing so much that he has become the linchpin at the heart of Atalanta’s UCL dream.

The 31-year old Slovenian has always possessed world-class playmaking ability, but issues with both consistency and comfort in the right setting during previous stints at Palermo and Fiorentina hindered him from elevating his game to new heights. Failing to regularly put all of his obvious talent in motion was the main criticism that made him frustrating to watch; that was until he moved to Bergamo in 2017.

Since his switch to Atalanta, Iličić‘s bevy of talents and creative qualities have crystallized, shining through to make him one of Europe’s most productive, influential and potent attacking threats this term. Whether Gasperini’s deployed him in the hole to tuck into pockets of space all over, receive the ball and push into advanced positions, or played him up top as one of two forwards in a 3-4-1-2 shape, he is largely to credit for why Atalanta are joint-first in Serie A with Juventus on goals (68).

Sifting through the offensive numbers provides plenty of evidence in an individual doing just about everything you could ask for in a number 10. Through 27 Serie A matches, Iličić has hauled in 11 goals and 7 assists. Digging a bit deeper in the data pool, he is also averaging 2.2 key passes and 2.5 successful dribbles per game, according to Who Scored.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Iličić this season is how he has taken others with him to another level – the truest and, arguably, purest indicator of a class playmaker.

Often leading counter-attacks and the foray into opposition territory, Iličić’s dribbling ability and close control allows for him open up defenses and exploit space extremely well.  As others charge forward in support, the Slovenia international can execute the line splitting pass in stride to a runner, or weave around the edge of the box to have a go himself with a stinging left foot that is also a weapon from dead ball situations.

Throughout his formative years, the technical quality, observation and understanding of play around him were prevalent in Iličić‘s playmaking repertoire. But the comfort gained from a coach in Gasperini, who hasn’t shied away from tossing him the keys and entrusting him as the focal point to this offensive juggernaut, is ultimately the key element to unlocking Iličić‘s true potential this season.

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