On Matchday 10, he came off the bench to score twice against Hertha Berlin, sealing a 3-2 victory for the defending Bundesliga champions and keeping them top of the table. His day’s work done, he simply sidled out of the press area at the Allianz Arena, leaving his coach to sing his praises. “When we get the ball into the right areas, Mario is very dangerous.”
Difference-maker against Hertha
In the age of the false no. 9 and with a squad packed full of attacking talent, it is unsurprising that Guardiola, perhaps the founding father of ‘tiki-taka’, has varied his attacking formation this season. Thomas Müller, a winger by trade, has led the attack recently, while earlier in the season, Mandzukic was supported by Thiago Alcantara, Mario Götze and Toni Kroos, sometimes by two of them in a single game.
Having started with Müller up front against Hertha, however, Guardiola was quick to realise the value of having an out-and-out centre forward, as Mandzukic most definitely is. The Catalan tactician can be credited with recognising the need to make an early change (Mandzukic and Mario Götze were introduced with 25 minutes played), but the coach reserved his praise for his established centre forward. “Because of his aerial prowess, Mario [Mandzukic] is the best player in the world in the penalty box right now.”
At previous club FC Barcelona, Guardiola became famous for using 5’7” Lionel Messi as his most advanced attacking player, a system that brought the Catalan outfit, and Messi himself, huge success. Bayern do not have Messi, but they do have Mandzukic, an old-fashioned type of goalscorer and one of the world’s best orthodox strikers. The rangy former VfL Wolfsburg goal-poacher is the man to bully the defenders, hold up the ball and bring others into play, as well as find the back of the net himself.
And done that he has: he top-scored for the Reds in the league last season with 15 goals and has seven already in 2013/14. Moreover, 20 of his 42 Bundesliga strikes have come with his head, the most of any player currently competing in Germany's top flight. Guardiola evidently likes to attempt new formations, but games such as that against Hertha prove that sometimes, a classic centre forward is irreplaceable. And as his statistics show, Mandzukic is the man for the job, having notched twice with his right foot and twice with his left.
Guardiola’s system, with a twist
Bayern at present are beginning to resemble a combination of the old Guardiola system at Barca and the new one in Bavaria. The possession count is similarly dominant and the pressing just as relentless. The biggest difference, however, has been the number of goals scored from crosses. Barcelona refrained from using the tactic, but die Münchner have scored seven times courtesy of service from wide positions in their ten games so far, with six headed goals, more than any other side.
Curiously enough, they trail both Borussia Dortmund (17) and Bayer 04 Leverkusen (13) in the number of goals scored from balls into feet (nine). Yet a quick look at the table means Guardiola won’t lose any sleep about his ‘tiki-taka with a target man’ tactic. And as long as Mandzukic remains atop the goalscoring charts, he can continue to let his coach - and his goals - speak for him.
Maximilian Lotz / Bernie Reeves
Check out Mario Götze's headed goal against Hertha, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: