Josip Ilicic is finally getting a lot of credit for his performances this season. Under Gian Piero Gasperini, he’s been scoring and assisting for fun leading to many calling him a ‘world-class’ player. It is certainly a lofty tag to hand to anyone, but Ilicic’s case has been so much down to the ultra-attacking system at La Dea.
In Atalanta’s 3-4-3 shape, the club relies on constantly moving forward and pressing high up the pitch. This has seen them rack up an XG of a little over 64. It is the highest in the league and ten more than anyone else. On top of that, they’ve overperformed on their XG by 5.82, scoring ten more goals than Lazio.
While this shows that they do like to score a lot of goals, Gasperini’s ultra-attacking system allows just that. The club takes the highest number of touches in the opposition penalty area- 881 and that is 100 more than second-placed Roma in this regard. They sit at the bottom for the touches in the defensive third, showing how they thrive on being as high up the pitch as possible (via FBRef).
Not just that, but Atalanta also create the highest number of shot creation actions per 90 minutes in Serie A. That number stands at 4.32. 591 of their live-ball passes lead to a shot on goal. While the shot creation actions are slightly lower, it shows how attacking a team are and are a fresh breath of air in Serie A.
This helps a player like Ilicic to improve his attacking output due to increased input. The Slovenian creates 7.36 shot creation actions per 90 minutes- more than any other player in the league. His goal creation actions stand at 1.33, only behind Paulo Dybala. In that sense, there is little surprise that he’s contributed to 20 goals in 21 appearances.
He boasts of a non-penalty XG plus XA per 90 minutes of 0.95, showing how capable he is of scoring and assisting in the system. The former Fiorentina man wasn’t a bad player at La Viola or Palermo either. But he was known to be a flair player who can be very good to watch when he gets on the ball and does things.
Gasperini’s system has tapped into that and has brought the best out of him. With the system, Ilicic’s numbers have gone up. His np XG plus XA per 90 stood at 0.67 last season. The more time this team spends together, the better Ilicic has got and the output stats show just that.
The space he gets on the ball allows him to complete 57 ball carries per 90 minutes and it is proof of how he benefits from getting on the ball more. Quite the same applies to Papu Gomez too. Not just him, left wing-back Robin Goosens thrives on it and has enjoyed a goalscoring season from that position. That is credit to Gasperini’s ability to bind the team together in this system that brings the best out of many players.
It is key to note that many players in that team may not thrive once they move away. The system at another club will not be ultra-attacking and they won’t enjoy as much freedom. It also applies to Ilicic, who’s performed at world-class levels this season. But for someone who doesn’t have much time left in his career, this golden period can go onto define him.