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Joint top scorer

Praise for aerial powerhouse Mandzukic

The winning goal in Plzen on Tuesday night was simplicity itself: a cross, a diagonal header, and the ball was in the net. “Mandzu always likes to drift to the far post and I saw him there,” said Philipp Lahm, describing the second-half strike in the Czech Republic. “The way he then put it away was obviously a great piece of work,” added the FCB captain. Mandzukic cunningly shook off his marker, powerfully heading the ball back across goal and into the far corner, a textbook finish once again underlining the Croat’s deadly instinct in front of goal.

The striker was on target three days earlier in Hoffenheim, and fired a vital brace against Berlin a week before that. He has now scored four of Bayern’s last six goals, and is the joint top scorer at the club with Thomas Müller on 10 goals in all competitions. 

“In the penalty area, Mario Mandzukic is the best player in the world with his head. If we put the ball into the mixer, he’s very, very strong,” acknowledged Pep Guardiola, reflecting on the fact that the aerial powerhouse has scored three of his last four goals with headers. According to Uli Hoeneß, speaking after the match in Plzen, Guardiola has “long been a fan of Mario Mandzukic.”

The difference versus Barcelona

That was not necessarily what the pundits expected prior to the season. At Barcelona, Guardiola dispensed with the traditional centre-forward and fielded Lionel Messi as a false nine instead. Some observers thought he would do the same in Munich, but they had not allowed for Mandzukic. He has appeared in 17 of the club’s 19 matches so far, starting 13 of them.

“Guardiola’s initial opinion might have been that you can manage without a centre forward, but he definitely respects the existence of a Plan B with Mario Mandzukic,” continued Hoeneß: “I think it’s the biggest difference between us and Barcelona. They have a Plan A and it’s perfect, but they don’t have much of a Plan B. If we need to get out the battering ram up front, we have Mandzukic. I wouldn’t want to be without him, and neither does Guardiola.”