Mario Mandzukic, by all accounts, has the kind of pain tolerance that is impossible to measure. He makes facial expressions that make you know that he’s in some kind of pain ... and yet he soldiers on because that’s what this Mandzukic knows what t do. He can run and run and run and, somehow, show up in Juventus’ defensive third while making a huge tackle at full stretch. He can play match after match after match and, in some way or another, let his presence on the field be known because Mandzukic is not just a striker who scores goals.
The problem is, over the last 2 1⁄2 months, Mandzukic has not scored goals.
And while you can’t simply measure the impact of Mandzukic by goals he’s scoring or not scoring, the simple truth is that Juve’s indestructible Croatian tank of a prima punta — who has been known to play as a kinda-sorta left winger the last few years — has taken a few hits. With those hits, Mandzukic has not necessarily looked like his old grumpy self.
There’s still the grumpy part.
But there’s also not the one who was one of Juventus’ most important players in the first half of the season.
And why could that be? One needs to look no further than the guy just looks flat out tired.
Thank goodness we’re at the start of an international break where Mandzukic isn’t out on international duty with Croatia, right? Sure hope that spring-like weather in Turin even though it’s not technically spring yet is treating you well as you kick your feet up for a few days, Mario.
Since coming to Juventus, Mandzukic has played — and he’s played a lot. He’s logged thousands of minutes, he’s made countless runs back to the defense to make tackles in the defensive third no matter if he’s playing alongside Gonzalo Higuain or Cristiano Ronaldo.
The difference between this season and last is that Mandzukic, who turns 33 in two months, has also had a huge run with Croatia to the World Cup final sandwiched in between it all. (And it’s not like Mandzukic had a month or more off over the summer like some of his other teammates, either.)
That mileage, that insane amount of mileage that have been put on Mandzukic’s legs in the last 12, 18 and 24 months might just be taking its toll on somebody who is usually indestructible.
Mario Mandzukic in 2019:
Games played — 8
Goals scored — 0
To be fair, Mandzukic does have a pair of assists, so it’s not like he’s been a total wash in the final third of the field. But, compare the past two months worth of games to what Mandzukic did in the first half of the season — one where he was easily one of Juve’s best and most valuable players — it’s pretty easy to see the kind of drop off in production.
Of course, this is all begs the question: Just how big of a role should Mandzukic, assuming he’s in this kind of form the next couple of months, play during Juventus’ most important stretch of the 2018-19 season?
The easy answer is to look over onto the bench, see somebody in the form of Moise Kean and say that the younger, fresher option that’s full of potential — and post-goal dance moves — and obviously waiting on pins and needles to get some kind of chance on a consistent basis for the first time all season.
But it obviously isn’t that simple.
Mandzukic is about as much of a mainstay for Max Allegri as anybody in the squad. He’s gone through goal scoring droughts before and still held his spot in the starting lineup. It’s obviously a situation where goals and/or assists — or a lack of them — aren’t going to determine Mandzukic’s playing time, especially in the Champions League where Allegri (historically) goes with the players he can count on the most.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Kean shouldn’t play. As we’ve been saying for weeks now, the huge Serie A lead with 10 league games to go means that Allegri will have the luxury of rotating his starting squad as much as he sees fit. (And that’s something he’s got to do as much as possible.)
But when it comes to the now and when it comes to trying to get Mandzukic back to being as much of a happy grump as he can possibly be, it all starts with getting him a rest. Allegri does that and maybe, just maybe, Big Game Mario actually has the juice to show himself again.