5 Bold Predictions for Mario Mandzukic's Debut Season at Atletico Madrid
Even before last season was over, it was obvious that Mario Mandzukic was set for the exit door at Bayern Munich. He missed the DFB-Pokal final, even though he was fit to play, but Mandzukic refused to comment on anything before the World Cup ended.
After finishing as Bayern's top goalscorer the last two seasons, Mandzukic decided to join last season's UEFA Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid. He penned a four-year deal with Spanish champions, per The Guardian, becoming their biggest addition this summer.
Known for his work rate, fighting spirit and movement without the ball, Mandzukic will bring a different dimension to Atletico's side and will try to establish himself as the key man in the team.
Here are the five bold predictions for Mandzukic's debut season with Atletico Madrid.
Mandzukic to Become Atletico's Hero in the Supercopa
Last season was one of the best in the history of Atletico Madrid. After 18 years of waiting, a brilliant team led by Diego Simeone outplayed such giants as Barcelona and Real Madrid and brought a Spanish title to the Vincente Calderon Stadium.
To prove that this was not just a coincidence, Atletico beat all the odds by reaching the final in the most prestigious club football competition.
However, as smooth as things were for Atletico last season, Real Madrid still managed to overshadow them with their victory over Los Rojiblancos in the Champions League final.
Atletico traditionally have a problem in El Derbi madrileno. Things have improved in the last two years, but apart from the first clash of the season, when Atletico defeated Real at the Santiago Bernabeu 1-0 back in September 2013, Simeone's team struggled against their biggest rival.
In two Copa del Rey encounters, played in February, Real Madrid easily won—scoring five goals and conceding none. In the league match at the Calderon, the final score was 2-2, while in the Champions League final, Real won 4-1 after extra time.
The new domestic season for both Madrid teams will start with an encounter in the Supercopa de Espana, and this is a great chance for Mario Mandzukic to establish himself as the hero for the Rojiblanco half of Madrid.
Two matches will not just decide the winner of the trophy but—at least for some time—the ruler of the city of Madrid. For Mandzukic, this will be his competitive debut for Atletico, and scoring against the archenemy would be a huge boost for the rest of his Atletico career.
Another La Liga Title?
Atletico Madrid had to wait 18 years to win the Spanish title, after they ruled La Liga in 1995-96. Before that, their dry period was one year longer after their 1976-77 success. Obviously, Los Colchoneros are hoping that this time they can change their luck and compete with bigger and richer clubs to defend their title.
Of course, it is a lot easier to win than to defend a title, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid are your biggest competition. Unlike Diego Simeone, who lost some of the most important parts of his championship team in Diego Costa, David Villa and Thibaut Courtois, both Real Madrid and Barcelona have reinforced their teams and will start the new season with a hunger to dethrone Atletico.
However, Simeone's advantage is the fact that he knows how to build a team with what he has at his disposal, and that is why Mandzukic's arrival could be crucial for the next season's ambitions. The Croatian striker has a winning mentality, has proved himself on the big stage and can easily embed into Simeone's style. This year's Atletico will have another go for a title, and Mandzukic should have a key role in that.
Mandzukic to Steal the Pichichi Trophy
Lionel Messi; Cristiano Ronaldo; Lionel Messi twice; Christiano Ronaldo—this is the list of the winners of the Pichichi Trophy, awarded to La Liga's top goalscorer, for the last five seasons. The two best players of today are dominating the Spanish league, and it is almost impossible to see anyone else interfering.
What is more, the stats look impressive for both of them. In 2011-12, Messi scored 50 goals in 37 matches in answer to to Ronaldo's 41 the season before. Messi added 46 in 2012-13, while Ronaldo scored 31 in 30 matches last year.
Mario Mandzukic's numbers were not even close to that. In his two-year spell at Bayern, the Croatian striker scored 47 goals for the club. In the Bundesliga, his output was 33 goals in 54 matches, far behind Ronaldo's or Messi's production.
However, with Atletico Madrid, Mandzukic will have a completely different role than he had with Bayern or even Wolfsburg. He'll likely be their main man up front, the player for whom the whole game plan will be made around. He'll need some time to adapt to the new system and his new surroundings, but being known for his hard work rate, Mandzukic could easily be one of the positive surprises of the season.
But whether that is enough to outdo the league's two biggest superstars is yet to be seen.
Mandzukic Becomes a Long-Term Solution
It will not be easy for Mario Mandzukic to inherit the role of key striker for Atletico Madrid. His predecessors have done a brilliant job, easily promoting themselves as top stars in world football through their performances at the Calderon.
In the late 2000s, Diego Forlan was the last man to win the Pichichi Trophy before the current Messi-Ronaldo era, scoring 32 goals in 33 matches. Fernando Torres made his name at Atletico, as did Manchester City star Sergio Aguero.
Their heirs were Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa. Falcao moved to Madrid from Porto, but only stayed for two years before attracting a lucrative offer from Monaco. His role was taken by Diego Costa, who scored 37 goals over the past two seasons after returning from his loan with Rayo Vallecano, but his good performances last season dragged him away from Atletico Madrid to a "bigger" club.
This time, Diego Simeone has the chance to create his attacking side around an attacker that will not leave at the first big offer. Mandzukic has already experienced playing for the biggest clubs and winning at the top level, and he'll not be seduced with big talk.
Mandzukic signed a four-year deal, and he looks like he could finally be a long-time solution for Atletico Madrid.
Winning Goal to Knock out Bayern in Champions League?
Mario Mandzukic enjoyed his time with Bayern Munich. The Croatian striker was one of the key players in their march to two Bundesliga championships, two German Cups, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League. With Bayern, Mandzukic literally won everything possible and wouldn't have minded staying there for a long time.
But his relations with the big boss in Bavaria were not that good. Pep Guardiola obviously prefers a different kind of football and different kinds of players, and no performances could have saved the Croatian star. After Bayern announced Robert Lewandowski as their future forward, it was obvious that it was time for Mandzukic to leave the Allianz Arena.
Even though Mandzukic still refuses to comment on Guardiola and his decisions, his exclusion from the squad for the German Cup final at the end of the season strongly suggested that he parted ways with Pep even before his departure.
Having a chance to meet Bayern in the Champions League and eventually knock them out with an outstanding performance or a winning goal would be a personal satisfaction for a fine striker who just never had his place in Guardiola's plans.