Replacing Diego Costa, Mario Mandzukic has become ‘fundamental’ to Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone hailed the strike for his all-around impact on the team after they advanced to the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Atletico Madrid's Mario Mandzukic has scored 12 goals in 20 matches across all competitions for the club this year. Morell / EPA
Atletico Madrid's Mario Mandzukic has scored 12 goals in 20 matches across all competitions for the club this year. Morell / EPA

Striker Mario Mandzukic arrived at Atletico Madrid with the task of replacing Diego Costa and his work rate and attitude against Juventus on Tuesday showed why he has become such an invaluable team member.

Coach Diego Simeone has had to reconstruct Atletico, with their La Liga triumph and run to the Champions League final last season leading to the departure of key figures like Costa, Filipe Luis and on-loan Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea.

Following some inevitable teething problems with new faces and the need for Simeone to tweak Atletico’s style of play, the pieces are now falling into place.

They controlled their final Champions League Group A game at Juventus, which finished 0-0 and guaranteed Atletico top spot.

With the team also well placed on the shoulders of Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of La Liga – four and two points behind respectively – it also suggests last season’s achievements were not a flash in the pan.

Croatia international Mandzukic arrived as a robust centre forward from Bayern Munich and has so far hit six goals in La Liga along with five in the Champions League.

He is a dependable striker but it is his willingness to track back and battle for the team that has seen him fit so well into Simeone’s game plan.

Against Juve, Mandzukic constantly harassed playmaker Andrea Pirlo and made it difficult for him to build any moves.

“He did a very good job and the whole team is grateful to him,” Simeone told reporters.

“It was almost as if Juve were playing with a man less. Along with that he played an important part in the chance for Koke. Mandzukic’s work was fundamental for the team.

“There were a lot of positives to take out of the game and Mandzukic’s performance is worthy of a lot of praise.

“When the season started our objective was to win the (Spanish) Super Cup against (Real) Madrid and we did that. The second was to reach the last 16 of the Champions League and we are in first place for the second successive year.

“We are not a team which is regularly in the Champions League and we will now do our best against whoever we face in the next round.”

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Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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