As England limped to a 1-0 victory over Slovenia on Thursday, few players at Wembley hit the mark. One who did, though, was Slovenia’s Josip Ilicic.
Taking his fine form for Atalanta into the international break, the forward was arguably the best player on the pitch.
Had Harry Kane not struck late on, he would have walked away as the Man of the Match. Indeed, if Twitter was in charge of the vote it would have been a landslide in his favour.
Ilicic has been the best thing to watch about this game.
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) October 5, 2017
Deployed at the top of the 4-4-2 alongside Andraz Sporar, his role as chief creator was not an easy one. Yet he did it superbly and was a danger man throughout; Ilicic threatened the home side from start to finish and deserved to be on the winning side.
Of all the entire Slovenia team, only two players managed more than his 49 touches. One of those was a left back and the other a defensive midfielder – getting more touches than the defenders and midfielders in a team that was on the defensive throughout is impressive work indeed.
Offensively, the numbers continue to highlight just how good he was. Nobody on his team bettered his two key passes, while only Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford managed it for England.
In terms of accurate crosses, only Rashford matched his total of two. Neither of the Manchester United man’s led to clear goalscoring chances, though.
Not gonna say anything about Ilicic though? Plays with 9 pieces of deadwood and still manages to excite.
— Matthew® (@mattbolistic) October 5, 2017
A more vigilant referee may have handed him a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Joe Hart. That chance only came because of his intelligent run between John Stone and Gary Cahill.
A better player than Roman Bezjak would have converted his delightful ball into the box in the 19th minute, while Bojan Jokic should have taken advantage of his ball to the back post in the 48th minute.
Later, a superior striker to Tim Matavz would have converted when Ilicic played him through with a glorious through ball in the 84th minute.
Had he been playing in England’s line-up, this would have been a far more comfortable victory than it was for the home side. Ilicic could and should have easily walked away with a hatful of assists to his name.
Harry Kane could certainly have done with a player of his quality behind him as Sterling toiled fruitlessly in the No.10 role.
Josip Ilicic has more technical ability than anyone in this England team…
— Stevo Veljkovic (@stevo_v) October 5, 2017
Not that his performance was all about his creating chances. Neat and tidy on the ball and hardworking off it, Ilicic put most of his England counterparts to shame. It will take Kyle Walker a while to get over that delightful nutmeg.
If you were asked to pick who was the £49million player between him and Sterling, based on this game, it wouldn’t be the Manchester City man people you would choose.
That’s how impressive Ilicic was throughout, it takes some talent to look good when playing in such a boring team and he did comfortably.
Slovenia are likely to feel very hard done by after their trip to Wembley. On a more fortuitous evening, they would have walked away as comfortable winners.
One man in their team can certainly feel hard done by; Josip Ilicic put on the best forward performance that’s been seen at the famous stadium in quite some time.