Features, Player Features

M for Mandzukic

August 24, 2017 - 9:03 am

When you think of the attacking talent available to us right now, there’s one name that’s frequently overlooked. Especially after a mercato where the focus has been primarily on the final 3rd.

Some, such as Higuain and Dybala are lauded. Cuadrado is met with what I would say is most commonly an iteration of bewilderment. Pjaca is on the treatment table, but promising if he can regain full health and form, and stay that way. Douglas Costa comes from the promised land of pace and raw attacking talent. Seemingly manufactured in the same laboratory as his compatriot Alex Sandro. Bernardeschi is young, talented, and probably the penultimate adjective for Juve, Italian. Kean, is tipped as our future. (He is also Italian.)

One man whose importance cannot be underscored with simple qualifiers is Mario Mandzukic. “Here is a man seemingly without a conscience: for whom the ends always justify the means.” -V

https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/06/22/10/29DB8F4C00000578-3133704-image-a-2_1434965592293.jpg

When ‘Mr. No Good’ first arrived at J Medical in the summer of 2015, boasting the frame of a teenager who has hit their growth spurt early, but has yet to fill it out, an earnest of the club’s desire was fulfilled. Juxtaposed with La Joya in the attack, there was a certain level of tranquility about our attacking capabilities for the season ahead. His first year had a modest return given the rotation with Morata, but it is the 2016/2017 season when we found out what he was truly made of.

When Pipita arrived one summer on from Mandzukic, which I think most of us can well and truly still admit we never saw coming, concessions had to be made in regards to who would be leading the line. Thus, as he always does, Mario set about his business quietly and professionally. Humbly accepting the rotational role and ever working hard, watching, waiting for an opportunity. Never too far from the limelight, but almost never directly beneath it.

That opportunity came with a change of formation, and also, a change in position. He took it, and never looked back. There was immediate skepticism abound. Even I couldn’t help but scratch my head and wonder what Allegri was thinking putting Mario on the wing. Mario said it best himself; “A lion doesn’t stress over the opinion of sheep.”

People have often labeled him as an “unorthodox” left wing since his change in role. I believe this is not only a competitive advantage, but a resounding underestimation of his talent and capabilities. He has made that role his own. Offering a completely different variety of attacking, and defending options that frequently leave opposition without a concise answer as to how they should defend against him.

Yet, ever since the switch, there have been clamors for replacing him with a more traditional winger. I think the more prudent question is: how exactly do you unseat him from our starting eleven? His defensive contributions alone have made him nearly indispensable. You’re probably all too familiar with the bone crunching tackles, and probably most famously, the double block against Atalanta where he literally took one to the face to prevent a goal.

I understand the thought process behind wanting a more traditional wing player. Better crossing ability, more service to Pipita, take the creative load off Dybala, etc. The list well and truly goes on and on. But, his tireless running, tracking back, starting of attacks, being a target, outmuscling the frequently dwarfed full backs who he comes up against, and adding a dimension to our squad that no traditional winger can truly supply. That shouldn’t be so easily cast aside.

Additionally, from a more tactical standpoint, I think he can be much more productive in terms of goal tally this year if he is allowed drift into the box more when the attack is being built from the right side. Douglas Costa and Desci/The Swiss Express having not only Higuain in the middle, but also a towering Mandzukic to deliver crosses to could be devastating. (Sorry Cuadrado, but this isn’t a luxury we have with you starting, as no one knows if your cross will find a warm body in the stands, or one on the pitch. (Cuadrado has more than enough talents we can, and should use nonetheless, but we’ll save that for a different discussion.)) All of this is before we even mention how useful Mario is for set pieces.

Most of us yearn for commitment and loyalty from the players on our squad. Few others have made the best of a situation like he has. To be displaced from your starting role in your natural position, to be placed in an unfamiliar one, doing it all with no complaint and becoming an integral part of our side again all the while. He could have agitated for a move, which is apparently the current flavor for dissatisfied players, but he did not. He stayed loyal to the badge, the club, his contract, the fans, and the project. It seems like that would be more cause for reward than replacement.

Mandzu will have some role to play at Juve this year. How big or small that is, I can only speculate. Maybe taking him out of the starting eleven will work, maybe though, just maybe, it’ll be, ‘no good.’

Let me be abundantly clear that I am not making a case for who our starting eleven should be, or what formation we should utilize. I humbly offer an alternative viewpoint than I am typically confronted with. I implore you, my fellow readers, writers, and Juventino: lend me your pens. For if you agree, or disagree, I want to know, and most importantly, I want to know why.

I can’t find the words within myself currently to conclude this succinctly, so I’ll borrow some that I think are most fitting in regards to Mandzu: “But what are kings, when regiment is gone, but perfect shadows in a sunshine day?” -Christopher Marlowe.

(This will be the first in a series of pieces offering alternative views than the most common on players within our squad.)

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  • Avatar
    Ali Al-Mawla August 24, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Hi Travis,
    I totally agree with the points you mentioned in the article. However, there is two things I would like to add:
    1- Disregarding a couple of negative supporters (which most teams have) the majority of the Juve fan society highly appreciate Mario and his amazing contributions to the team.

    2- I believe in a season that we compete in three major tournament, versing teams from various backgrounds, having multiple approaches is a good thing. In a certain match we need Mario and his powerful presence and in some matches we need pace where we will need a traditional winger such as costa.

    All in all amazing article mate, looking forward to the next one.

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 24, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      Thank you for taking some time to respond. I hope I didn’t leave the taste of our fan base being anit-Mario in general. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite and agree with you that he is highly respected by juventus fans.

      I couldn’t agree more with your second point either. We will certainly need strength in depth to compete all year long in 3 competitions.

  • Avatar
    Moderator August 24, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Fantastic read and food for thought Travis – It really makes me think about the whole situation with Mandzukic – As you rightly point out, his commitment is as unwavering as his do or die attitude on the pitch. We have shiny new players….but do we suddenly trade Marrione for Berna or Costa, just because?

    It takes a huge amount of sacrifice to give up your natural position and still give 100% without complaint – it’s a testament to the kind of player Mario is. Perhaps, as is often the case, we won;t realise how important he is until he’s gone.

    For now, i think he should be starting – I would love to see us agree a deal for Cuadrado that would facilitate a move for a mid or CB – That would allow Costa to start on the right and Berna to replace him or Mario, leaving plenty of options up front for us to alternate between.

    Great work amico and thanks again for sharing – So glad to have you on board at Juvefc !

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 24, 2017 at 8:46 pm

      Love the insight. The one thing I may slightly differ on opinion with you is that I believe our quest for another defensive player should be independent of cuadrado. I don’t want to go overly in depth as to why because my next piece for this series will be in regards to how we may still be able to utilize cuadrado effectively. Look for that today or tomorrow.

      • Avatar
        Siamak Shoravi August 25, 2017 at 11:12 am

        Can’t agree more!

        • Avatar
          Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 8:53 pm

          Spoiler alert, I gave it away in my response to the gutter poet.

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    Cory August 24, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Put Costa in for Cuadrado and leave Mario exactly where he is. If Pjaca or Berna light the pitch on fire when given their chance then it maybe time to reevaluate, until then he has earned the right to start in my opinion.

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 24, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      I would certainly agree with that

      • Avatar
        Siamak Shoravi August 25, 2017 at 11:09 am

        I think most of the time some of us oversee Quadrado only for his some inconsistencies! He is worth more than that for us.

        • Avatar
          Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 8:53 pm

          I’d agree with that.

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    Dar Black August 24, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    He is a talented player, a fighter. We need some of them. All teams do. End of.

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    Kieran Buckley August 24, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Very good article.
    Mandzukic is a warrior in every sense.
    He lays his body on the line.
    You need guys like him in a team. The goal he scored in Cardiff also testifies to his skill, something that is overlooked.

    • Avatar
      Siamak Shoravi August 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Overlooked? Really? Fortunately I don’t agree with you. I think most of us know his abilities and how worthy he is for our team. Simply put, most of us praise him for what he has become.

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet August 25, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Yes it was a great team goal, at the same time, Carvajal had his number overall, with two of their goals coming from his involvement…I see Mandzukic as an area to exploit for the elite sides. His lack of pace and inability to turn quickly. I guess sometimes his power wins out, sometimes it proves a weakness.

      • Avatar
        Kieran Buckley August 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm

        Good point

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    RAC August 25, 2017 at 3:58 am

    Thank you, Travis. I would go one step further and say that he is irreplaceable in our starting 11 (4231) if he maintains his current form. Or better yet, his current and ever improving form.

    Mario is not just good on the wing; he is better than he has ever been on the wing. Note that he has become the starting left winger for the Croatian national team ever since he started playing that position at Juventus. Kalinic is now their starting forward. He is also one of the more productive wingers in football today (more on this later).

    Mandzukic impressed with his workrate and defensive ability in his first games as a winger, but as of late, he has shown much more. His runs in collaboration with Alex Sandro are more fluid (I believe he is becoming as important to Sandro’s game as he was to Dybala’s in 15/16) and he is learning to marry his roles as forward and winger. Some examples are his curling goal from the left edge of the box vs Genoa in late April, his run and assist for Dybala vs Barcelona that same month, his goals vs Monaco and Real Madrid in the following stages of the Champions League, and his goals vs Roma in the preseason and vs Cagliari in this season’s opening game. Mario is not just good; he is improving.

    We must keep in mind that he has played this position for less than 6 months of competitive football. While the first few months showcased his defensive ability, his last outings show he is learning to add offensive output to his wing play. Looking at Juventus games from the Barcelona ties onwards, and specially those in which Juventus has difficulties, you will notice Mandzukic is one of our main outlets when we start attacks from the back. He not only wins his aerials, but has the composure to knock down a perfect pass for his teammates. How many times did this happen vs Real Madrid, just in the first half? I lost count.

    Don’t get me wrong: I would be thrilled to see any Juventus player thrive on the wing, but for now I just cannot see anyone providing the performances we get from Mandzukic on that wing in a formation with only 2 center mids. He is brilliant in defence, brilliant in the build-up, and, lately, brilliant in offense. I am quite convinced that we have yet to see the best of our #17.

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 8:18 am

      Awesome perspective! I definitely agree with you that he is improving game over game in that role and I am eager to see that trajectory continue. I was unaware that he had moved to the wing for Croatia as well.

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet August 25, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Wise words as always, Mr RAC…I’d counter that our midfield issues are to be remedied with the inclusion of Matuidi (and Marchisio when fit) in place of Khedira. Finally a presence in the middle, which significantly negates the need for a LW to hold tight and central to drop deep so often to make up the numbers defensively. The wingers can focus more on attacking the space in front of them, supporting Higuain and making the most of DYbala pulling players out of position and returning the favour themselves.

      • Avatar
        RAC August 25, 2017 at 11:45 pm

        Yeah, I think so too. The options on the wings depend more on the midfield than anything else. I expect Costa or Bernardeschi to be favorites with a midfield 3, and Mandzukic to be favorite with a midfield 2 in order for Allegri to hold on to his 4231/442 hybrid. At least until Bernardeschi gets the hang of Allegri’s demands.

        • Avatar
          Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 11:50 pm

          I think as well that once Mario is phased out of the starting 11 that he’ll be extremely useful to rotate with Higuain. You could see Pipita slowing at the end of the year. Can you blame him? We had no natural replacement with Mario on the wing which caused him to play almost every minute of every game once we switched to a 4-2-3-1. Being able to supply rest for higuain will be just as important to get the best out of him all year long as well as being able to use Mario on the flank when needed.

  • Avatar
    Shanks August 25, 2017 at 5:28 am

    Well said Travis! Bravo! You cannot deny what Super Mario brings to our team, he plays with heart and that’s what I love about him the most.

  • Avatar
    Siamak Shoravi August 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

    It’s not for nothing that he’s called Super Mario! Not because he looks like the figure of Nintendo but simply because his playing abilities as you mention is superb! I have to confess that in the beginning I wasn’t comfortable with him but now these days I can’t imagine a starting 11 without him. We love him as much as seemingly he loves us.

  • thegutterpoet
    thegutterpoet August 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Interesting piece, Travis…certainly conjures a variety of thoughts. And yet, whilst I find the big chap a consummate professional, certainly admire his attitude and talents …to some degree – I am not an advocate of his role in our 4-2-3-1 system.

    It is pleasing, to the head and heart to see him backtracking, defending in our box, but the hole that creates higher up the field is counterproductive – by my reckoning – as often as productive. He holds the ball superbly and links well with those overlapping, offering his best work as a CML/DM/LW which relies hugely on Sandro getting forward. His physique allows him to balance the scales in terms of his huge frame not quite as fast as more fleet footed colleagues.

    I admire his determination as for me spirit is major part of the game. Something that has become increasingly rare, along with loyalty and honesty. All of which he has in spades. We are fortunate to have him.

    Still, I would rather see us playing with Costa in his role and Bernardeschi on the opposite flank. The Italian works extremely hard and I believe would offer a fair amount of security in the middle of the flank and deep, not just creativity and pace higher up. Costa might not be a defensive minded player, and I hope not, for the most obvious bother with the 4-2-3-1 with Mario involved, is that Higuain is often left isolated with 2-3 minders for company. He still gets chances, as his movement is world class, but with our squad, in the right set up, he could be scoring 40-50 a season.

    As impressive is the work rate, grow tired of seeing Mandzukic defending, DYbala coming deeper and deeper, and this huge gap from our attacking thrust to our prima punta. Also, smart, quick players learn to play around the big fella. He does not turn quickly, nor has the acceleration to catch nifty players playing around him.

    With Marchisio hopefully to spend most of the season fit (after his month out!) with Matuidi and Bentancur in the ranks, we have far less need for a LM/LW to be so defensive focused. There should be more presence in the middle which was so sorely and often lacking with Sami and Miralem, neither of which have much if any defensive potency.

    The Bosnian can play beautifully from deep, but he can do so solely when there is some hustle and physical presence nearby dealing with opponents, screening the defence and acting as a fulcrum of sorts.

    Allegri has lots of options. Personally I like the idea of a 4-3-2-1 shape, with Costa as an inside attacker through the left channel, and Dybala through the inner right channel – which is as often where I already see him as anywhere else on the field. Matuidi and Marchisio would be in the most natural positions, Pjanic would have the support of two robust team-mates in the middle. Still, is that really Costa’s best role or should he stick to the wing?

    No doubt we will continue with the 4-2-3-1 yet I will hope to see Bernardeschi and Costa integrated sooner rather than later. They cost big money and will need to be playing to become part of the collective. Once Pjaca is back we have a back-up/ challenger of sorts for LM/LW and also Dybala’s current role in the hole. The qicker Cuadrado is moved to the bench, the better for the team. This was already happening last season, with Max placing Alves ahead of the COlombian late on. Which as always happens, caused the latter to drop in form, quite noticeably. There really cannot be a place for his awful mentality in a side which must look to become more fierce, more determined, more gritty. Juan looks like he is about to cry, all too often…

    Yes, I admire and hugely value Mandzukic, believe his Juve career has been a success, with his transformation from muscular, towering centre forward to what is a hybrid role on the left of midfield proving a stunning testament to his character. However, I do not believe the evolution of the team, with the players we now have, includes him remaining as the starter in our ideal first XI. ANd yes yes! of course, we need rotation, but every elite team has an ideal starting XI. It is something Allegri must find then fine tune…Could take some time.

    A shame we could not offload Cuadrado…Yet I will prepare for more games where we basically carry him and give our RB the work of two. Baptism of fire for De Sciglio, if he has Juan for company and we are playing anyone decent. Max won’t let than happen though///I hope.

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      Ah! My friend, a warm and welcome response from you! Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I’m putting this series of pieces together to offer some food for thought for our readers. Even I may not believe 100% that these pieces should be the defining solutions for our side, but I really like to challenge not only myself, but anyone who may come across these pieces to look at the situation from a different angle then what the lovely soccer media typically dumps on us.That being said, let us begin!

      I certainly agree that the flame that is Mandzu’s guaranteed starting position is dwindling and will eventually fade out fully. I can definitely make the argument that with all the talent that has been brought in, we will need to allow Mad Max the opportunity and time to ease these players in and find the best way, or ways, to deploy our side. Until we have arrived at that, I think it is a no brainer to allow Mario to continue to strut his stuff in the 4-2-3-1 and immediately bring in Costa on the right. We’ll certainly need more attacking verve in the future to free up both Higuaín and Dybala to play more naturally and have more opportunities to shine. You were spot on with what you said about Pipita and I couldn’t agree more with you. Mario has certainly earned his spot for all his qualities for the time being.

      I am glad you brought up the idea of bringing Costa to the left to work with Sandro. I think that could be used to devastating effect as they are already friends, compatriots, and provide so much talent individually that together, well that is just a frightening thought. Which would also allow fellow friends and compatriots in Berna and Desci to strike up a great partnership on the right. Although, for as mouth watering as that is, there is something to be said about Costa coming in on to his left from the right. (Side note, have you realized that we could literally field a team with up to 7 left footed starters as of right now?) The biggest problem I see right now is that if we want to deploy three in the center of the park, there will not be two wingers playing. Which will certainly probably get the best out Pjanic, but we simply won’t drop Dybala for the sake of a winger. Conversely, if we want to play with two wingers, we won’t be playing with a 3 man midfield. Because again, Dybala will not be dropped for a third midfielder either.

      I’m not convinced we can’t get the best out of Pjanic with the double pivot. He has bags of quality, but I don’t think what he’s lacking is another body in the middle, I think it’s more confidence. When he plays with purpose and isn’t afraid to take risks or initiative, that is when we get the best out of him. He can certainly get lost in games and he definitely needs a more defensive player alongside him. That being said, Khedira is not the best option to play alongside him in the double pivot because he likes to go forward too much. Marchisio and Matuidi are ideal because they’ll sit back a bit more and protect Pjanic. If anything, I could see a solution with the RB sinking into the middle a little more and playing a little further back in the offensive phase and Rugani pushing up slightly into the midfield to create the three. He doesn’t have the range of passing Bonucci does, but to recycle play, give pjanic a little more cover by putting another body in the midfield would be great. Plus, he is young so he’ll have the energy to get back into position quickly, as well, his greatest strength is his reading of the game and positioning. He’d be smart enough to play a little more advanced on the field during the offensive phase. Just a thought thought.

      Finally, I may disagree with you on Cuadrado slightly. I 100% do not think he is capable of starting anymore in this squad. Also, by the end of this year, he’ll have almost no resale value. 30 years old, not a starter or very productive. Sadly, I think we may be swallowing the pill that is Cuadrado for a few years to come. We all question his decision making over and over and over, but for all his faults, one useful place for him would be as a super sub. He has the pace to beat people from the start of a match. He could easily be utilized coming in for cameos with 20 minutes or less in the game and absolutely burning people on the flank. He’ll easily be able to out pace most any LB that is fatigued, which will draw out other defenders to help cover him, opening up space for other players. He’s decent enough holding up the ball down in the corner, can beat a defender 1v1, and as long as we can get the team into position on the offensive side of the pitch quickly enough to ensure that all he needs to do is pass it 3 meters rather than attempt to cross it, it could work and be useful for a final push in a game, but probably a bit wishful thinking to believe he wouldn’t try something ridiculous and leave me scratching my head.

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      Ah! My friend, a warm and welcome response from you! Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I’m putting this series of pieces together to offer some food for thought for our readers. Even I may not believe 100% that these pieces should be the defining solutions for our side, but I really like to challenge not only myself, but anyone who may come across these pieces to look at the situation from a different angle then what the lovely soccer media typically dumps on us.That being said, let us begin!
      I certainly agree that the flame that is Mandzu’s guaranteed starting position is dwindling and will eventually fade out fully. I can definitely make the argument that with all the talent that has been brought in, we will need to allow Mad Max the opportunity and time to ease these players in and find the best way, or ways, to deploy our side. Until we have arrived at that, I think it is a no brainer to allow Mario to continue to strut his stuff in the 4-2-3-1 and immediately bring in Costa on the right. We’ll certainly need more attacking verve in the future to free up both Higuaín and Dybala to play more naturally and have more opportunities to shine. You were spot on with what you said about Pipita and I couldn’t agree more with you. Mario has certainly earned his spot for all his qualities for the time being.
      I am glad you brought up the idea of bringing Costa to the left to work with Sandro. I think that could be used to devastating effect as they are already friends, compatriots, and provide so much talent individually that together, well that is just a frightening thought. Which would also allow fellow friends and compatriots in Berna and Desci to strike up a great partnership on the right. Although, for as mouth watering as that is, there is something to be said about Costa coming in on to his left from the right. (Side note, have you realized that we could literally field a team with up to 7 left footed starters as of right now?) The biggest problem I see right now is that if we want to deploy three in the center of the park, there will not be two wingers playing. Which will certainly probably get the best out Pjanic, but we simply won’t drop Dybala for the sake of a winger. Conversely, if we want to play with two wingers, we won’t be playing with a 3 man midfield. Because again, Dybala will not be dropped for a third midfielder either.
      I’m not convinced we can’t get the best out of Pjanic with the double pivot. He has bags of quality, but I don’t think what he’s lacking is another body in the middle, I think it’s more confidence. When he plays with purpose and isn’t afraid to take risks or initiative, that is when we get the best out of him. He can certainly get lost in games and he definitely needs a more defensive player alongside him. That being said, Khedira is not the best option to play alongside him in the double pivot because he likes to go forward too much. Marchisio and Matuidi are ideal because they’ll sit back a bit more and protect Pjanic. If anything, I could see a solution with the RB sinking into the middle a little more and playing a little further back in the offensive phase and Rugani pushing up slightly into the midfield to create the three. He doesn’t have the range of passing Bonucci does, but to recycle play, give pjanic a little more cover by putting another body in the midfield would be great. Plus, he is young so he’ll have the energy to get back into position quickly, as well, his greatest strength is his reading of the game and positioning. He’d be smart enough to play a little more advanced on the field during the offensive phase. Just a thought thought.
      Finally, I may disagree with you on Cuadrado slightly. I 100% do not think he is capable of starting anymore in this squad. Also, by the end of this year, he’ll have almost no resale value. 30 years old, not a starter or very productive. Sadly, I think we may be swallowing the pill that is Cuadrado for a few years to come. We all question his decision making over and over and over, but for all his faults, one useful place for him would be as a super sub. He has the pace to beat people from the start of a match. He could easily be utilized coming in for cameos with 20 minutes or less in the game.

  • Avatar
    Juventino Persa August 25, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Great piece of writing Travis, you put a light on his determination, work rate, tactical adaptivity and defensive attributes. And it’s totally spot on, I guess most Juventini see Mario as a worthy of our shirt, and yes he has earned his place in starting XI.

    In the other hand, in my humble opinion, the poet is right as well. Max turned to 4-2-3-1 and Mario was our best answer for that LW/LM position, we all recognise that. But now we have arguably a world class winger and a potentially world class winger in our ranks, and both can play on both LW-RW position. But more importantly, it was the lack of physicality in the center of the field that pushed Allegri to use Mario’s towering presence combined with his defensive work-rate and tactical positioning as a complimentary part of our midfield. If there were likes of Pogba and Vidal in our ranks there would be no need for that. Now as Poet said, I am also very optimist that Matuidi, Bentacur and Marchisio can accompany Pjanic i the center, hence there will be less emphasis on the defensive aspect of LW and more dependency on the attacking part. That would put Costa and Bernd. as better alternatives. But overall I think we will move toward a hybrid 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 which allows us to keep using Mario as well as our more attack-minded weapons in tandem. This tactical versatility would help rotation ( which Allegri loves so much, but I am not big fan of!) as well as keeping competition alive in our rank. I have to emphasis that for me the performance of Matuidi and Bentacur will be super important for all these!

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet August 25, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Spot-on, comrade!

      I omitted more of an explanation – which you have now added to the conversation and is very valuable – of why Mario ended up there in the first place. It was to allow us to have more attacking fluidity whilst adding some hustle, physicality and grit to the midfield. He was trying to MAX-imize our strengths whilst minimizing the accompanying weakness, which was all season, the CM area. As well as a worrying tendency to drop in intensity, quite brutally…which happened more often than in the CL final, as some may recall. Genoa was one of those games. A handful of others where we simply failed to match our opponents in any way for hunger, cohesion, drive.

      We now have the players to add the steel and discipline required for the CM area. As well as superior wingers for both flanks. Makes sense to again, perhaps slowly, transition to maximizing our strengths, and minimizing our weaknesses. With Costa, the German hopefully coming, Freddy and ideally Marchisio and Matuidi to be fit in the starting XI, at least for a 4-3-X on some occasions, I do not see any obvious weaknesses. Nor would I with one of the CMs partnering Pjanic in the current 4231 (with Howedes, Costa, Freddy all playing)

      Weakness appeared to me, as Dar Black also noted consistently, the central midfield area. With Bonucci gone, who also helped out there hugely we have addressed the issue and now have two specialists from the role of defensive minded CM in Matuidi and a (hopefully) fit Marchisio. Bentancur is more a specialist LCM…has played at DM before, but his talents were wasted there. So he was moved to play on either side of the diamond, often does similar for his country (U20 Uruguay).

      As mentioned before, he reminds me a little of Pogba in how quickly he can move from a stand still to galloping with the ball at his feet. Looks languid, then suddenly ever so graceful…I can but hope Allegri gives him a chance in his natural role.

      Matuidi is also very strong in a LCM position..

    • Avatar
      Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      Excellent thoughts my friend! Very insightful! If you scroll down just a bit, I put a fairly lengthy response to Daniel’s (the poet’s) earlier comment. I’ve offered a handful of my thoughts in regards to what both of you have been bringing up. Cheers!

      • thegutterpoet
        thegutterpoet August 25, 2017 at 9:13 pm

        Indeed, I ponder often changing my damn username…whilst it still fits, I suspect it gives the impression I am a little more pristine, less long in the fang, than the reality!

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      Travis Gallardo August 25, 2017 at 10:58 pm

      Ah! My friend, a warm and welcome response from you! Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I’m putting this series of pieces together to offer some food for thought for our readers. Even I may not believe 100% that these pieces should be the defining solutions for our side, but I really like to challenge not only myself, but anyone who may come across these pieces to look at the situation from a different angle then what the lovely soccer media typically dumps on us.That being said, let us begin!
      I certainly agree that the flame that is Mandzu’s guaranteed starting position is dwindling and will eventually fade out fully. I can definitely make the argument that with all the talent that has been brought in, we will need to allow Mad Max the opportunity and time to ease these players in and find the best way, or ways, to deploy our side. Until we have arrived at that, I think it is a no brainer to allow Mario to continue to strut his stuff in the 4-2-3-1 and immediately bring in Costa on the right. We’ll certainly need more attacking verve in the future to free up both Higuaín and Dybala to play more naturally and have more opportunities to shine. You were spot on with what you said about Pipita and I couldn’t agree more with you. Mario has certainly earned his spot for all his qualities for the time being.
      I am glad you brought up the idea of bringing Costa to the left to work with Sandro. I think that could be used to devastating effect as they are already friends, compatriots, and provide so much talent individually that together, well that is just a frightening thought. Which would also allow fellow friends and compatriots in Berna and Desci to strike up a great partnership on the right. Although, for as mouth watering as that is, there is something to be said about Costa coming in on to his left from the right. (Side note, have you realized that we could literally field a team with up to 7 left footed starters as of right now?) The biggest problem I see right now is that if we want to deploy three in the center of the park, there will not be two wingers playing. Which will certainly probably get the best out Pjanic, but we simply won’t drop Dybala for the sake of a winger. Conversely, if we want to play with two wingers, we won’t be playing with a 3 man midfield. Because again, Dybala will not be dropped for a third midfielder either.
      I’m not convinced we can’t get the best out of Pjanic with the double pivot. He has bags of quality, but I don’t think what he’s lacking is another body in the middle, I think it’s more confidence. When he plays with purpose and isn’t afraid to take risks or initiative, that is when we get the best out of him. He can certainly get lost in games and he definitely needs a more defensive player alongside him. That being said, Khedira is not the best option to play alongside him in the double pivot because he likes to go forward too much. Marchisio and Matuidi are ideal because they’ll sit back a bit more and protect Pjanic. If anything, I could see a solution with the RB sinking into the middle a little more and playing a little further back in the offensive phase and Rugani pushing up slightly into the midfield to create the three. He doesn’t have the range of passing Bonucci does, but to recycle play, give pjanic a little more cover by putting another body in the midfield would be great. Plus, he is young so he’ll have the energy to get back into position quickly, as well, his greatest strength is his reading of the game and positioning. He’d be smart enough to play a little more advanced on the field during the offensive phase. Just a thought thought.
      Finally, I may disagree with you on Cuadrado slightly. I 100% do not think he is capable of starting anymore in this squad. Also, by the end of this year, he’ll have almost no resale value. 30 years old, not a starter or very productive. Sadly, I think we may be swallowing the pill that is Cuadrado for a few years to come. We all question his decision making over and over and over, but for all his faults, one useful place for him would be as a super sub. He has the pace to beat people from the start of a match. He could easily be utilized coming in for cameos with 20 minutes or less in the game.

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    BartWos August 27, 2017 at 3:31 am

    So… I’m one of those people who have changed drastically their opinion about Mandżu. Until last season I considered him a superfluous player, someone who has the best years behind him, someone who should be only a substitute. And then I saw Max Allegri move him to the left wing, centre forward, 1.9 m height.

    I think about MA “tricks” what I think is… And I see two lost champions league finals.

    But it was Mario who was the only one who didn’t disappoint at the time, showed the brave, big, hard ballz. He played a good season in not-his position. Being a saucy Yugol he accepted this change, he didn’t complain.

    He earned my respect.

    ..
    .

    But… he plays in the same position as Neymar, CR, Hazard, Sanchez, Carrasco, Dembele… really? It’s still incredibly weird, with Costa on the bench…

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    BelgianJuventino August 27, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Excellent piece, written with good insight. And an enjoyable read on top of that.

    Can be really short on why I would prefer Costa to Mario as LW though: I dont want any of the front 4 in our own box. They have to attack and be free to pass the ball to when our defenders recuperate the ball.

    Its short as I dont have much time as of now, but that is the essence for me 😛

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      Travis Gallardo August 27, 2017 at 7:12 pm

      I think that with how shakey the defense has looked so far this year, and khedira offering next to no support defensively, we are probably going to need to expect our offensive players to drop back from time to time to assist defensively

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        BelgianJuventino August 28, 2017 at 3:47 pm

        For this year I agree, due to the reduction in defensive power you mentioned. They are needed in defense to shore things up.

        In general though, they should not be burdened with defensive duties. It dulls our considerably strong attack too much to my taste.

        Its a personal preference though, I know that

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          Travis Gallardo August 28, 2017 at 9:44 pm

          You’re right in a sense, we need to ensure that our attackers are attacking and defenders are defending. The midfield is the link for that to happen.

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            BelgianJuventino August 30, 2017 at 2:13 pm

            Indeed, hence why a solid DM is essential for this team. I hope Matuidi can be that man.