A painfully slow start to his Juventus career has given way to a recent run of fine form in front of goal for Croatian marksman Mario Mandzukic.
Mandzukic joined reigning Italian champions Juventus for a reported £13.6 million fee in June 2015 following a slightly underwhelming spell at Atletico Madrid.
He was drafted in by Diego Simeone to replace outgoing behemoth Diego Costa within the Atleti attack, but never quite hit the heights attained by the current Chelsea star at the Vicente Calderon.
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Despite hitting a goal every two starts in both league and European action during his year in Spain, it was felt that his presence was no longer required.
A new adventure awaited him in Turin, but his task in taking over the goalscoring mantle from departing stars Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente appeared equally daunting.
The well-travelled 29-year-old arrived at the Juventus Stadium boasting an enviable record, having struck double figures domestically four seasons in succession.
That level of consistency had been achieved in spite of Mandzukic finding his way from Wolfsburg to Atletico Madrid via Bayern Munich within that relatively short period.
He’d spent only two campaigns apiece at the aforementioned German Bundesliga outfits, whilst one term proved enough in La Liga.
Atleti fans never quite took to the Croat in the same way as they had Costa, and that eventually prompted his summer switch to Serie A.
Though the pair resembled one another in terms of power and physicality, they possess vastly different styles of play.
Mandzukic is an archetypal target man who thrives on balls into the box, but his predecessor showcased an ability to run at defenders, and often dribbled his way beyond them from deeper areas.
In addition, the ex-Dinamo Zagreb striker was also part of a side that failed to live up to their previous season’s exploits when Simeone led Atletico to the Spanish title and a Champions League final place in 2013-14.
Frustratingly for all concerned, the Rojiblancos could only reach the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier tournament and finished third in La Liga during Mandzukic’s one-season stay.
NOMAD NO MORE
Juventus came calling for his services in a bid to inject a new level of threat to their forward department following the reluctant sale of superstar poacher Carlos Tevez.
Doubts surfaced about Mandzukic’s capacity to deliver after just three goals in 12 all-competition outings at the beginning of his stint with the Bianconeri, plus a three-week injury lay-off suffered in September restricted his involvement during that opening spell.
However, it was a barnstorming 55-minute cameo appearance against Manchester City on November 25 that finally brought various critics onside and had exalted team-mate Gianluigi Buffon purring.
“Mario was very good tonight,” said Buffon in a post-match interview with UEFA.com.
“He scored but also helped the team a lot and he worked to death to help us defend when we didn't have the ball. We thank him – this is the Mario we want.”
The all-action display against City encapsulated all that is good about Mandzukic’s game – outstanding effort, willingness to sacrifice himself for the cause and a clinical eye for goal.
His prowess within both boxes is absolutely crucial, thus leading to the Croatian international assuming top spot in terms of aerial duels won this season amongst the entire Juventus squad.
Experienced centre-forward Mandzukic relishes a confrontation with any defensive foe, in which he is fully prepared to battle for the right to play and then to notch important goals.
Furthermore, a burgeoning partnership between Mandzukic and exciting Argentine youngster Paulo Dybala also looks highly promising, which can only be good news for the team’s chances of success.
Five strikes in as many matches from ‘Super Mario’ leading up to the winter break suggests the former Bayern man has finally found a home in which he can happily remain for many years to come, therefore abandoning his nomadic tendencies of the past.
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