Published On: Sat, Feb 11th, 2017

Mario Mandzukic: The forgotten musketeer of Juventus

He might not get the credit he deserves, but Mario Mandzukic has been outstanding in recent weeks for Juventus and is fast becoming one of their most important players.

They say three’s a crowd, and despite Juventus extending their lead at the top of Serie A on Wednesday night, striker Mario Mandzukic must understand the meaning of the phrase better than most on the Italian peninsula.

If you were a UK-based fan unable to catch the Bianconeri’s midweek evening kick-off against Crotone live – from a TV at least – you will have struggled from the post-match reaction to know whether the Croatian had even taken part.

“Gonzalo Higuain’s 16th goal of the season sends Juventus seven points clear with victory at struggling Crotone,” crowed the BBC.

“Higuain and [Miralem] Pjanic spark Juventus past well-organised Crotone,” was the angle chosen by ESPN.

It wasn’t until you searched the Italian outlets, that you found any reference to the 30-year-old’s contribution, with La Gazzetta dello Sport proclaiming, “Goals from Mandzukic and Higuain save Juventus.”

This is not the first time the former Bayern Munich striker has failed to receive the appropriate credit, but maybe that will always be the case when the others in this trident are the most expensive Serie A player of all-time and Paulo Dybala – who must surely inherit the legendary Juventus No.10 shirt next season.

Maybe the spotlight doesn’t shine so brightly on Mandzukic because he has cast aside (so to speak) to the unfamiliar role of wide-attacker by coach Massimiliano Allegri, or the relatively poor return of five Serie A goals and three assists this term.

However, those numbers mask the greater contribution the ex-Atletico Madrid frontman provides and will be crucial if the Old Lady are to make a serious assault on the Champions League, now that a sixth consecutive Scudetto appears secured for the honours board.

Since the turn of the year, Juventus have tasted defeat just once, when Mandzukic appeared for just 12 minutes against Fiorentina from the Bianconeri bench. A coincidence fans of the South American duo will no doubt be quick to point out!

On their return from Florence, though, the Croatian was vital when netting a goal and assist – for Dybala – next time out against Lazio in a 2-0 win, and a mainstay in his less familiar wide-left position during a run of four straight victories.

Just as against the Il Squali Wednesday evening and Inter before them, though, it is his experience and physicality, so attuned to the mentality of the Juventus of the last half-decade, that appears to make them an even tougher proposition for opponents.

During an hard-fought contest with the Nerazzurri at the Juventus Stadium, Mandzukic stood tall, always willing to receive the ball and provide the link between midfield and central striker – a position he no doubt craves himself.

The Croatian was nearly the hero against Inter as well, sending a diving header narrowly past the post, and was also seen making a last-ditch tackle on Mauro Icardi inside his own penalty area.

However, a strong character, who left Bayern within 12 months of deciding the playing-style under Pep Guardiola was not for him, will surely not want to play second-fiddle – let alone third – for too long.

His continued dedication to the Juventus cause, rather than shuffle around the club muttering under-his-breath disapproval over his switch in role, is exactly what a team fighting on three fronts need for success.

If Mandzukic and his more celebrated teammates keep up performances in Turin, the first Croat to score in a Champions League final could well end the season a two-time winner of the competition and may even receive the credit he so deserves.

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