At first glance, classical music and sports don’t have much in common. However, the most passionate football followers know there is a special breed of player who make it seem that those two completely independent arts were made for each other.
Josip Ilicic is certainly one of those men, and while we all hope he’ll soon resolve his personal issues and we’ll see him in an Atalanta jersey soon, La Dea cannot afford to leave the void he left unfilled. The final part of the 2019-20 season showed that no player in Gian Piero Gasperini’s team can replace the Slovenian veteran, as his magical left foot and creativity were sorely missed both in the last rounds of Serie A and against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
It seems that the directors of Atalanta have noticed this as well, as the Bergamo outfit was quick to snap up Lokomotiv Moscow star Alexei Miranchuk for €14.5m. But who is Miranchuk and why were La Dea so eager to get him?
It’s really hard to imagine, but at only 24 years of age, Miranchuk had just started his ninth season for Lokomotiv, before his move to Atalanta was made official. That really seems remarkable, as since his debut in 2012-13 the attacking midfielder has amassed 45 goals and as many assists in 228 games in all competitions for the Russian giants.
Those numbers seem crazy for such a young player, especially considering that Miranchuk was neither the strongest, nor the fastest among his teammates during his time in Moscow. What makes the 182cm tall attacking midfielder unique is his awareness and ability on the ball, as at times it almost seems like he has an extra second, which allows him to skip past opponents with remarkable ease.
While he has occasionally led the line and also featured on the left wing for Lokomotiv, Miranchuk’s strongest position has undoubtedly been on the right, slightly behind the back of main striker Eder. Just like Ilicic, Miranchuk is strongly left-footed, so he likes to cut inside from the wing and either shoot or look for a through ball.
However, Atalanta’s new acquisition also seems capable enough to play in a more advanced role in the middle, as his first touch and close control make him very efficient in tight spaces. Miranchuk likes to carry the ball forward and dribble past opponents, which makes him perfect for Gasperini’s direct style and at the same time potentially capable of producing at least a fraction of Ilicic’s magic.
A close look at the Russian’s stats from last season shows that he has completed 2.6 dribbles per game, and while this is significantly lower than Ilicic’s 4.1 successful dribbles per game, it showcases his confidence and technique.
However, Miranchuk excels in winning the ball back and there’s little doubt that he is much better than Ilicic when it comes to defending. His 2.3 interceptions per game are more than double the Slovenian’s tally of 1.1, but Gasperini was probably more interested in another defensive stat of his new arrival.
As we know, Atalanta are most dangerous when they win the ball back in advanced areas of the pitch and unlike Lokomotiv, who often prefer to defend deep, Gasperini’s team is usually very aggressive in the opposition half. Last term Miranchuk averaged 4.8 recoveries per game, 3.1 of which in the opposition half, which makes him perfect for Atalanta and once again almost doubles Ilicic’s total of 2.6 recoveries per game.
While we can only guess what number of interceptions Miranchuk might reach in Bergamo, if he manages to soak up the wisdom of Gasp, the truth is stats rarely show the full picture.
In fact, it’s impossible to truly understand what type of player the Russian is by solely looking at his numbers, as you really need to see him with a ball at his feet. That’s where numbers are no good, as Miranchuk possesses this extra bit of quality on the ball that the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Andrea Pirlo, Ilicic and a few other maestros of the game had. This obviously doesn’t mean that the attacking midfielder is anywhere close to any of those names in terms of class and quality, but he definitely has potential.
Of course, Serie A is a completely different animal in comparison to the Russian Premier League, so it remains to be seen how Miranchuk will adapt. The chances are he’ll get enough playing time in a team that suits his style perfectly, but he’ll have the tough task to fill Ilicic’s big boots for the time being.
A direct comparison between the two would be simply inappropriate and unfair, but the truth is the similarities in both Miranchuk’s and Ilicic’s playing styles are simply too many to be overlooked. While we all hope that the nearly 33-year-old Slovenian will return to Bergamo soon and will once again dazzle the world with the Atalanta jersey, it’s only normal that La Dea are looking for a replacement and Miranchuk has the potential to be exactly that.
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