Ilicic inspires Atalanta to Benevento rout


Josip Ilicic scored a goal and set up two others as Atalanta moved up to fourth in Serie A on Saturday with a 4-1 win over midtable Benevento.

The 32-year-old proved he has returned to his best form after taking two months out due to personal problems after the first coronavirus lockdown last year.

The Slovenia striker was impressive throughout, with Atalanta captain Papu Gomez still frozen out after clashing with coach Gian Piero Gasperini.

“We’re into the championship now,” said Gasperini after a third consecutive win.

“It’s a really good time for us, we’ve regained confidence, the ability to play for 90 minutes and also (regained) enthusiasm.”

Ilicic gave the visitors the advantage after half an hour, embarking on a solo run up the right flank, dribbling past three defenders and firing in at the near post, through centre-back Kamil Glik’s legs.

He was a denied a second by the post shortly afterwards with a fierce drive from long range, having also provided perfect crosses for Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who squandered the chances.

Marco Sau pulled Benevento level five minutes after the break, with Zapata having a goal ruled out for offside.

But Ilicic had a role in Atalanta’s next two goals, as Benevento goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo pushed his 69th-minute effort into the path of Rafael Toloi who scored on the rebound.

Two minutes later, Ilicic was again the creator with a brilliant cross for Zapata to tap in the third from close range.

Substitute Luis Muriel curled in from the edge of the area four minutes from time for his 10th league goal this campaign, and sixth in five games.

Atalanta moved above defending champions Juventus by a point, with the Bergamo side now six points adrift of leaders AC Milan who host Torino later on Saturday.

Gasperini said the decision to keep Argentinian Gomez sidelined was “a technical choice”.

“I needed to try another type of system because I saw that we were suffering in midfield and Gomez did not adapt.”

Story continues

AC Milan are looking to extend their one-point advantage over city rivals Inter Milan who travel to third-placed Roma on Sunday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has returned to the Milan squad after seven weeks out injured, with the 39-year-old having missed eight league games.

On Sunday, fifth-placed Juve face a tough match at home against sixth-placed Sassuolo.

Andrea Pirlo’s side are without three players who are suffering from coronavirus in Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado and Matthijs de Ligt.

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