Cast your mind back to Atalanta’s third strike in their six-goal demolition of Brescia 10 days ago.
Ruslan Malinovskyi received the ball in the left hand channel of the Brescia half, some 35 yards from goal. The Ukrainian dropped the shoulder to sidestep Mattia Viviani, ran into a more central position, pulled back his traction engine of a left foot and unleashed a missile that flew into the bottom corner of Lorenzo Andrenacci’s goal.
It was yet another screamer for the Malinovskyi scrapbook. “I don’t have a bad left foot,” he joked in his first interview for Atalanta last summer. It’s safe to say that Malinovskyi was slightly understating things.
The 27-year-old midfielder is in the enviable position of possessing one of those left foots that all players crave: raw, visceral and incredibly precise. Malinovskyi’s preferred foot sits in the class of left footed mavericks that have lit up Serie A in years past; think Sinisa Mihajlovic, Alvaro Recoba, Adriano and Ruben Sosa. Re-watch his piledriver of a goal against Lazio from last month as a prime example.
There is a case that Malinovskyi has been one of the shrewdest signings of the season in Serie A. Bought for just €13.7m last summer after an impressive season with Belgian side Genk in which he scored 16 goals in all competitions, the Ukrainian has given Gian Piero Gasperini an extra weapon in attack, with his aforementioned left foot and ability from set pieces another problem for opponents to deal with.
Malinovskyi has been utilised mainly as an impact sub by Gasperini this season, garnering only 11 starts in Serie A as he becomes fine-tuned to La Dea’s ultra-attacking system. The Atalanta boss was one of the primary reasons Malinovskyi signed for the club, even stating that he asked former Milan and Ukraine legend Andriy Shevchenko for advice about a potential move to Italy and playing under Gasperini.
According to Malinovskyi, the 2004 Ballon d’Or winner and current Ukraine national team manager – in addition to his Italian coaching staff consisting of Mauro Tassotti and Andrea Maldera – wholeheartedly agreed that working with the former Genoa and Inter coach would only improve his game.
Seven league goals and five assists to date is a decent return considering the midfielder sits 14th for total minutes played for the Bergamo outfit this season. Malinovskyi has also been a key tactical substitution during the latter stages of games, with his ability to keep possession of the ball a welcome addition to Gasperini’s side that in recent seasons would struggle somewhat when in control of a game. Malinovskyi keeps Atalanta ticking over with his range of passing, especially if Papu Gomez or Josip Ilicic have been substituted.
A perfect example of Malinovskyi’s impact as a substitute can be found in the game against Juventus earlier this month. Malinovskyi was only given 22 minutes against Juve, yet made his impact felt to such an extent that La Gazzetta dello Sport awarded him a seven out of ten in their post-game ratings; Turin-based Tuttosport went one better, giving him a mark of 7.5.
Malinovskyi’s burgeoning reputation grows by the game, and such is the expectation on him to find the net anywhere close to goal. In the 2-2 draw with Juve, having already scored a hammer with his right foot, the Atalanta bench could be audibly heard gasping as he danced away from several Juve players and with a gap emerging ahead of him, anticipated the net to ripple once more.
Unfortunately for Atalanta, Malinovskyi dragged the shot wide.
With games coming thick and fast and with Atalanta still in Europe, there are plenty of games for the Ukrainian to receive more playing time. Furthermore, you get the sense that Malinovskyi will be more than just a bit-part player next season, and we’ll be seeing even more of that rocket-fuelled left foot.
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