Mandzukic may have proved point in Juve fightback against old boys Bayern
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | February 23, 2016
Until just after the hour mark, you wouldn’t have known Coral’s 3/1 outright second-favourites Bayern Munich had no central defenders fit to start their Champions League last 16 first leg away in Turin to Juventus.
Pipe and slippers stuff from Pep Guardiola’s Bundesliga big guns thanks to goals either side of half-time first from Thomas Muller – right place, right time as ever – and Arjen Robben, completing a counter-attack with an infield incursion.
But then one-time Bayern boy Mario Mandzukic, perhaps proving a point to his former manager, showed his Croatia credentials as a fine foil to set up strike partner Paulo Dybala and help make another for Stefano Sturaro.
That allowed the Old Lady to equalise on the night and give the Munich men merely an aggregate advantage on away goals to take back to the Allianz Arena.
Mandzukic literally went head-to-head with prolific Poland poacher Robert Lewandowski, the man who Guardiola grabbed on a Bosman in the summer of 2014 and was seen as a upgrade on him, between helping to drag Juve level following the most lukewarm home display for 60 minutes.
Old Lady gives a little too much respect
To see the Turin titans give so much respect to a Bayern side with a beleaguered backline in the first-half was surprising. Juventus remain well in contention to take a fifth straight Scudetto and second successive Serie A crown under Massimiliano Allegri, but saw so little of the ball against the German giants.
As a result, the Old Lady never looked like the home team in their eponymous Juventus Stadium, so Munich’s opener two minutes before half-time had definitely been coming.
Chile midfield all-rounder Arturo Vidal, a summer Bayern buy from Juve, set the tone by stinging the palms of former club teammate Gianluigi Buffon early on. Juan Bernat did likewise on half an hour, though not before Thomas Muller contrived to miss an open goal from close range.
Tiki taka taken to Turin by visitors
That penchant for a Guardiola side to dominate possession en route to walking the ball into the net, and a glimpse of what Manchester City may either find magical or immensely frustrating in future, meant it easily could’ve been more and Munich may have taken a lead back to Germany.
While Bayern’s past in Mandzukic dropped off from going up against makeshift teenage centre back Joshua Kimmick, lethal Lewandowski needed to do more with a floated free-kick from Thiago Alcantara than nod straight at Buffon.
Allegri selecting France’s golden boy Paul Pogba nominally from the left flank seemed to make little sense, and it proved a peripheral position from which he could hardly influence proceedings.
Age and instincts play part in opener
Juventus suffered in the absence of long-time star defender Girogio Chiellini through injury, while their 30-something full backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra simply couldn’t contain Munich widemen Robben and Douglas Costa.
Brazil international Costa hooked back across goal when a deep centre from the Dutchman, formerly of Chelsea, came in. As the ball deflected off Andrea Barzagli, who else was instinctive enough to be on hand to fire home but Muller?
Munich go Dutch for second goal
It took just 10 minutes after the interval for Bayern to double their lead and get a second away goal through Robben. A beneficiary of Muller and Lewandowski both breaking in behind, being forced wide proved no hindrance to this better with age Netherlands international.
Robben slalomed in off the right flank, worked sufficient space, and bent the ball beyond Buffon’s despairing dive. And so the tie looked cut and dried, with Juve seemingly staring down the barrel of Champions League elimination at the first knockout hurdle.
Super Mario makes statement
Something stirred in magnificent Mandzukic then. It has not been a vintage season for the Croatian target man to date, yet – perhaps fuelled by being kicked to the curb by Guardiola – he stopped giving Munich too much respect, and provided the physical presence he should’ve from the first.
Pressing usual midfielder Kimmich into a mistake, Mandzukic slipped in Dybala to poke past Manuel Neuer and revive the Old Lady’s fortunes. It was the Argentina international’s first Champions League goal.
Juan Cuadrado, the Colombian winger who like Robben never found Chelsea quite the right fit, had confined himself to theatrical falls in Juve colours for much of the match, but then showed flashes of his Fiorentina form when forcing Neuer to tip over.
Turin titans taller than Munich men
Allegri’s tactical changes to the hosts were far from subtle, but proved effective against a Bayern backline shorn of the height provided by Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and others.
Using aerial superiority, especially over diminutive Munich skipper Philipp Lahm, allowed Juventus substitute Alvaro Morata to immediately make an impact upon his introduction by popping up in his favourite left channel area.
He headed Mandzukic’s ball into the sliding path of fellow bench warmer Sturaro, reducing Old Lady arrears to naught but the away goals rule, which will come into effect if the aggregate scoreline remains level after 90 minutes of the second leg.
Could Max and Pep do battle in Premier League?
Although Allegri took Juve all the way to the Champions League final last term, albeit with a team that included Carlos Tevez in attack besides Andrea Pirlo and Vidal in midfield, the Turin team are 11/1 to repeat that feat this term.
This was a tie that should’ve been put to bed by Bayern, but remains in the balance because of dying breeds – a good, old-fashioned and physical centre forward alongside deep-lying, later arriving midfield runners.
Call it mischievous yet Allegri, a 10/1 chance to be Chelsea boss on the first day of next season, appears to use tactics more suited to the traditional English game than the definitely Etihad inbound gaffer Guardiola.
That means the next Manchester City manager in waiting will need to find means of putting the tie to bed, not only to successfully conclude his Munich mission but for his own sake and future.
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