mario mandzukic

How Allegri has Made Mario Mandzukic A Machine

Every team is blessed with that particular player capable of doing the job of two, three or even four players combined. Without any doubt, Mario Mandzukic has been that man for Juventus this season.

Juve's commanding performances could see them finish the campaign with a reputable three titles. The Serie A is just about done and dusted for the Old Lady who leads the pack with 85 points, seven more than closest rivals, Roma, going into the final three fixtures. A historic third successive Copa Italia is also on the cards for the Bianconeri, who know anything other than a positive outing against Real Madrid will impede their hopes of a first Champions League title in 21 years.

What a dramatic upturn in fortune it has been for the Turin giants, who only a decade ago, were wallowing in the second tier of Italian football. A revival of some sort incited by Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, who led the club to three successive Scudetto titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But his biggest undoing was not replicating that dominance on the continent.

Then came Massimiliano Allegri - a manager tasked with not only supervising Conte's domestic dynasty but forging it a step further to Europe. His impact was immediate as Juve won another league title in his first season and narrowly lost the Champions League to Barcelona. But shortly after, three of Allegri's core players departed Turin. Arturo Vidal left for Bayern Munich, Andrea Pirlo to New York City FC while Carlos Tevez returned to his homeland.

At this point, the ex-AC Milan gaffer knew it will take both a shrewd work on the transfer market and some form of creative intuition to fill that void. For the first, he brought in Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala while sorting the second by inventing a new system suited to his new crop of players. He developed new roles, new patterns, and then somehow made it work with these players that, to be frank, were not natural fits with each other.

Consequently, Juve retained the 2015/16 Scudetto with Mandzukic notching 10 goals. Clearly, that tally wasn't gonna be enough for a team fighting on all fronts. This coupled with the exit of Alvaro Morata forced Allegri to once again tap into his coffers, signing Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli. And the arrival of the Argentine was perceived to ultimately put an end to Mandzukic's Turin career, but instead, the Croatian has since become indispensable.

Somehow Allegri succeeded in finding a system that will accommodate the ex-Atletico Madrid star. He put Dybala underneath Higuain, with Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic in the central midfield. Then slotted Juan Cuadrado nicely on the right wing. The only remaining hole was on the left wing, but there was a problem - he didn't have a single natural winger to put out there. So that tapped Mr versatile, Mandzukic. Tall and imposing with good technique, the 30-year-old can be likened to a robot due to his ability to play as a target man, left winger and full back simultaneously.

The Croatian has just eight goals this season - his lowest output since 2006, when he was a 19-year-old playing for NK Zagreb in his first professional season - but his game has been about much more than just goals. His contributions defensively have remarkably stood out. Working with Alex Sandro, Mandzukic has helped shut down the entire left wing. No wonder opposing teams often times give up attacking down his flank.

To add to his amazing defensive attributes, Mandzukic has equally been terrific in possession, helping move opposing defences and create spaces for his teammates. He's also been quick to make runs that have made it so Dybala has space to operate in the centre of the pitch, not to mention occupying defenders that would otherwise be harassing Higuain. What an extraordinary player the 30-year-old has become.

"Mario is player who has a different motor to the others," he said. "He does an amazing amount of running, he is great tactically and he has really good technique. He is an important third attacker," Allegri said.

Should Juve eventually clinch the treble, names like Dybala, Higuain and Leonardo Bonucci will instantly produce a bang neglecting Mandzukic, the tireless worker who aided them behind the scenes.

About the Author Toby Prince

An unrepentant soccer freak other freaks call geek.

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