Munich - Mario Mandzukic or Mario Gomez? It’s a debate that rages on and one that will only intensify as Bayern Munich prepare for their forthcoming southern derby clash with VfB Stuttgart on Sunday evening.
Mandzukic grabbed the goals against Greuther Fürth last weekend but as bundesliga.com finds out, Gomez is a player who simply cannot be overlooked - especially against his former club.
The 27-year-old’s statistics speak for themselves. In his first 100 Bundesliga games for Bayern, has found the net 66 times. That, incidentally, is four more than legendary striker Gerd Müller had managed at the same juncture for the Munich outfit and only surpassed by prolific duo Dieter Müller (67 in his first 100 games for FC Köln) and Rudi Völler (73 for Bremen).
Bayern may have ended the 2011/12 campaign without a trophy, but that man Gomez was - for the most part - on fire, adding a further 26 league goals to the 129 he has scored for Bayern and Stuttgart in 221 Bundesliga outings to date. Indeed, Gomez has hit the net 79 times in the past two seasons alone, 20 of those coming in the UEFA Champions League. Only FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi can top that over the same time frame in Europe's elite club competition.
His subsequent injury problems have been well documented but when he did make his return following three and a half months on the sidelines, on 24 November 2012, Gomez needed just 27 seconds to rediscover that net-tickling feeling. Clearly, the man is clinical if nothing else - and that’s certainly proved to be the case whenever he’s had to face former employers Stuttgart.
On 19 December 2010, Gomez returned to the Mercedes Benz Arena with a vengeance, notching a hat-trick as Bayern recorded a barmy 5-3 win. Three days later in the DFB Cup, he was at it again - this time scoring just the once in an equally entertaining 6-3 success for the men in red. Bayern once again hit their Swabian rivals for six in the sides' first Bundesliga meeting of the current campaign but, with Gomez ruled out, it was who assumed the early-season goalscoring duties.
Mario I vs. Mario II
Herein lies the predicament. Mandzukic perhaps didn’t expect to displace Gomez as Bayern’s lone striker when he moved to the club in the summer of 2012 but 46 shots, 11 Bundesliga goals and 1199 league minutes later, he appears to have done just that. What makes him different to Gomez is his versatility: his link-up play, hold-up qualities and tireless running - all of which played a huge part as the Bavarians ended the Dortmund hoodoo with Supercup victory in August 2012.
So where does this leave Gomez? The Bayern system doesn’t warrant a front two, meaning Jupp Heynckes’ Plan A is always going to centre around one forward in his favoured 4-2-3-1 set-up. At present, that man is Mandzukic, but that’s not to say that will always be the case. After all, Gomez is a proven scorer at all levels with the figures to prove it. He may only have scored twice in the Bundesliga this season, but he needed just seven attempts to do so, and there is little doubt that he will add to that tally as Bayern look to top up their own record title haul come May.
Christopher Mayer-Lodge reporting from Säbener Straße