Josip Ilicic put on a masterclass to inspire Atalanta’s 4-1 victory away to Benevento, with Rafael Toloi, Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel also on target.
This was a battle of form sides, as La Dea started 2021 with eight goals scored and one conceded, despite freezing out Papu Gomez, while Le Streghe were flying high in mid-table. Mario Pasalic was still out for the visitors, while Benevento missed Gianluca Caprari, Luca Caldirola, Iago Falque, Gaetano Letizia, Alessandro Tuia and Gabriele Moncini.
Atalanta almost scored within a couple of minutes, Josip Ilicic floating the ball to the back post for a Robin Gosens volley wide under very heavy rain.
Lorenzo Montipò also flew to palm away another Gosens strike, then Ilicic set up a wonderful opportunity for Duvan Zapata, only for the diving header to flash wide.
Ilicic was inspired, his own left-foot curler deflected inches wide, so eventually got the goal himself. The Slovenian magician started down the right flank, cut inside past three defenders and placed the left-foot finish between Kamil Glik’s legs to score at the near post from eight yards.
Atalanta continued to dominate and Ilicic could’ve had a second, but his left-foot scorcher from the edge of the area cracked against the far post.
Ilicic sent Duvan Zapata through to sting the goalkeeper’s gloves on the stroke of half-time. Benevento gave 19-year-old Christian Pastina his Serie A debut for the second half, but the domination continued, Rafael Toloi incredibly turning wide when sent clear by Duvan Zapata.
Atalanta were made to eventually pay for the wasted opportunities, as Benevento equalised with one of their few forays forward. Debutant Pastina floated a great ball to the back post for Marco Sau to come sliding in from close range.
Duvan Zapata had the ball in the net soon after, but was offside, and Benevento were far more aggressive rather than the timid side pressed into their own half.
However, Ilicic turned on the style once again, as after a give-and-go on the edge of the box, his curler was only beaten away by Montipò and Rafael Toloi was quicker than Christian Maggio on the rebound.
Benevento threatened an immediate equaliser with Pasquale Schiattarella’s cross, but instead Ilicic sent an ideal assist to the far post for Duvan Zapata’s cushioned volley off the inside of his left boot.
Another Ilicic slide-rule pass released Hans Hateboer to force a tricky reaction save from Montipò, then Ruslan Malinovskyi sent Luis Muriel through for a deflection to turn it inches wide.
Muriel also tested Montipò before finding the net for the fifth game in a row with a truly magnificent finish, curled right-footed into the far top corner from the edge of the box, as if it was remote controlled.
Montipò kept the scoreline down on Hateboer’s angled drive, getting down with one strong arm.
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