TURIN (Reuters) - Mario Gomez scored 41 goals for Bayern Munich last season yet he now finds himself shunted onto the substitutes bench by a player deemed surplus to requirements by mid-table VfL Wolfsburg.
Mario Mandzukic spent Euro 2012 not knowing where he would be playing this season after Felix Magath, then in charge at Wolfsburg, decided the Croatia forward was more trouble than he was worth.
Bayern, however, liked what they saw from Mandzukic at the tournament and, although his signing raised a few eyebrows, he has been the most important addition to a team which finished runners-up in three competitions last season.
Mandzukic’s performance in the Champions League quarter-final, second leg against Juventus on Wednesday, where Bayern completed a 4-0 aggregate win, was a classic lesson in how to play as a lone centre forward.
He tussled with defenders, created openings for his team mates, closed down Juventus when they tried to play the ball out of defence and capped it all be scoring the first goal, effectively ending the Serie A team’s challenge.
“I‘m delighted about scoring, but I‘m even more delighted we’re through,” he said after a 2-0 win at the Juventus stadium.
“The crucial factor was that we played the way we did in Munich... We knew we had to keep our cool and score one goal, which is what we’ve done.”
Despite an early booking which will keep him out of the semi-final first leg, Mandzukic never let that get to him as he battled with an imposing Juventus defence which had kept five successive clean sheets in Europe before meeting Bayern.
A master in the art of holding the ball and laying it off for his team mates, he could be found in the middle, setting up shooting chances, or bulldozing his way down the flanks.
Two of Bayern’s best chances before their opening goal came after Mandzukic chested the ball down for his team mates, Thomas Mueller blasting the first effort wide and Arjen Robben hitting the post with the second.
He then burst down the right touchline and pulled over a low cross which just failed to find a finishing touch before winning the free kick which led to his opening goal.
Mandzukic’s performance made a mockery of his previous reputation for having a poor work rate, being tactically indisciplined and throwing tantrums.
Gomez was prolific last season but Bayern may have become over dependent on him for goals last season, a limitation exposed in the Champions League final when he failed to hit the target and contributed little else to their performance.
“To be successful, a team needs a squad of top players, not just eleven, and that is maybe what we lacked in the Champions League final last summer,” coach Jupp Heynckes said before the Juventus tie.
”That’s why the transfer policy for this season was so important.
“A club like Bayern must have alternatives and options to be able to challenge for titles at national and international level.”
Editing by John O'Brien