Rewind to the summer of 2013 and Mario Mandzukic was on top of the footballing pedestal, winning the treble of the German Bundesliga, the DFB Pokal and the UEFA Champions League, with Bayern Munich. The Croatian international was pivotal in this run for the treble, scoring a total of 22 goals in all competitions.
Fast-forward to 2017 and he’s on his way again to those heights with Italian heavyweights Juventus, but in different circumstances, different roles and a different mindset.
The Old Lady take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in city of Cardiff on Saturday night, but Mandzukic heads there with the reputation of an unsung hero, which is rather unfortunate considering his contributions towards another potential treble.
Mandzukic arrived Juventus for €19 million from Atletico Madrid ahead of the 2015-2016 campaign but his season wasn’t so fruitful, scoring just 13 goals in all competitions, the first time he’s failed to reach the 20 goal mark since 2011-2012 while with Wolfsburg.
The Croatian had to take on a new role for the 2016-217 season as the Old Lady signed Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli for a bumper €90 million.
Mandzukic’s name remains the same but the player – who became the first Croatian to score in a Champions League final, is the one who’s now dogged in chasing after wingers and embracing team play. So what’s responsible for this transformation?
At Bayern, his 22 goals during the 2012-2013 season made him the top goal scorer on the way to the treble – the first German team to accomplish that feat. However at Juventus, he had to change from being an all and out striker to a defensive-minded winger.
With €90 million man Higuain playing the obvious role of main striker, Mandzukic’s main chance for regular game time was to play on the flanks. The Croatian’s transition was made possible thanks to his versatility as well as physical and mental strengths.
Comparing his defensive score (using Squakwa stat matrix), he was a -153 on defense at Bayern but he’s a positive 84.05 at Juve and that’s a huge leap.
The 31-year old has created 36 chances in the just concluded Serie A season, four of them assists and seven goals. He had a pass completion rate of 73% which is also very good.
Mandzukic was pretty effective in the air too. Thanks to his 6ft 3in height, he won 62.25% of all his aerial duels in 34 games played. The 75-time capped Croatian international only picked up 5 yellow cards and no red cards despite having to do a lot of running, chasing back and shielding the defense.
Mario Mandzukic has given up a huge part of his game which is goalscoring, to become a perfect replica of what makes Juventus a model team.
Under the management of Massimiliano Allegri, everyone knows their roles and fulfils it without asking questions and why indeed would Mario want to ask questions when this might be the best role he has played in his career?
The Slavonski Brod native might have a knack for scoring goals but his defensive attributes are too good to be underutilized.
The spotlight for this final will be on the likes of Higuain, Dani Alves, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon but it will be wrong to lose focus on a player whose mental and defensive strengths is one of the strongest in the team.
Should the Bianconeri lift the trophy in Cardiff for the first time since 1996, even if one of the aforementioned stars gets all the credit, which will likely be the case, just remember that Mario Mandzukic played a vital part to the first treble in the Turin giants’ history and the second of his career.
Photo source: Zimbio.com