In Focus: Atalanta Look to Ademola in hunt for European football
Ademola Lookman has been a standout player for Atalanta in Serie A this season.
The Nigeria international is thriving in Bergamo following his departure from RB Leipzig last summer and his contributions have been essential in helping Gian Piero Gasperini's side push for a spot in Europe next season.
With 11 strikes and three assists in 18 league appearances, Lookman has had a hand in 14 of Atalanta's 37 goals so far in 2022-23.
Ahead of his side's match against Sampdoria on Saturday, we take a deep dive into the attacker's rise in blue and black.
Turning the tide
Lookman, 25, racked up 18 goal contributions in 98 Premier League appearances for Everton, Fulham and Leicester.
While on loan with the Foxes from Leipzig last season, he netted six times in 26 top-flight games to catch Atalanta's eye and secure a move to Serie A.
His most noteworthy strike for Brendan Rodgers' side was the winner in a 1-0 victory over Liverpool.
But he made fewer appearances for the East Midlands club in the second half of the campaign and it was rare for the Charlton academy graduate to complete 90 minutes.
Much of the concern surrounding the South Londoner was his perceived lack of effort and defensive diligence but there have been few critics of his performances since switching to Italy.
Bigger and better
Lookman's brace in last Sunday's 3-3 draw at Juventus showcased his improved form in front of goal.
Only Nigerian team-mate Victor Osimhen has scored more Serie A goals than the former Toffees attacker this season and La Dea's No11 has already equalled his tally from five seasons in the Premier League.
The four-cap international has netted six goals in his last three games in all competitions as the Nerazzurri hunt European qualification and Coppa Italia glory.
His movement and decision-making have improved greatly, as reflected in his statistics for the free-scoring side.
Averaging 2.72 shots per 90 minutes and 1.98 chances created per game, Lookman provides a cutting edge and creative spark that was exemplified by a guided header past Wojciech Szczesny for his second against the Old Lady.
Although the header was special, it was his movement that caught the eye after he managed to position himself in front of the experienced Alex Sandro.
Home is where the heart is
Lookman is one of many players who had aspirations to play for England but did not make the cut, despite earning 31 youth caps at three age groups from the Under-19s to U-21s.
The Wandsworth native was born to Nigerian parents and eligible to represent the African nation if he wished.
After turning down multiple approaches from the national team, Lookman finally decided to represent the Super Eagles and his decision was approved in February 2022.
The diminutive forward was handed his debut in the World Cup play-off against Ghana and netted his first goal in a 10-0 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying win over Sao Tome and Principe.
If he can carry his prolific domestic form on to the international stage, Lookman is certain to be one to watch at next year's AFCON tournament in the Ivory Coast.
Hailed by the boss
Gasperini has had nothing but positive words to say about Lookman following his inspirational performance against Juve.
The 64-year-old Italian coach even went so far as to credit the new director of football Lee Congerton for managing to bring the Englishman to Italy.
He said: "This new director, who is responsible for scouting, spotted these players. He knew him [Lookman] because they were together at Leicester.
"He was also quick for [Rasmus] Hojlund, the club made an important investment in this lad. The club bought these two players who have been helping me work well."
On Lookman's display against the Bianconeri, he added: "Lookman had an extraordinary performance.
"We conceded two goals in the first half by losing the ball pretty cheaply and those are situations where we should've been more careful.
"We always had character and quality, even in games where the results were a bit like tonight.
"I saw a definite growth from the start of the season, partly because of the freshness and personality of these lads who arrived."
Atalanta sit sixth in the table, only two points away from the Champions League places, and could climb as high as second should results go their way this weekend with AC Milan floundering and Juve plummeting out of contention following their 15-point deduction.
Should Lookman continue his exhilarating form in front of goal, do not discount Gasperini's young stars from seizing their moment to shine.