AC Milan’s new signing Mario Mandzukic says he is ‘ready’ for the challenge at hand after returning to Serie A on a free transfer from the Qatari side Al-Duhail, but how much of a difference can he make to Stefano Pioli’s side this season?
At the start of the campaign, very few would have predicted the Rossoneri would be flying high at the top of the division, 18 games in and ten points clear of the reigning champions Juventus.
The Croatian, having signed a contract until the end of the season will not be the only veteran striker at Milan with Zlatan Ibrahimovic – even at the age of 39 – having been a revelation. The Swede however, has not been without his problems this season, missing two games early on having tested positive for the coronavirus and eight games through muscular injuries.
Having said that, none of the above have prevented the player from having a hugely positive impact on Milan’s campaign – netting an impressive 12 goals in just eight league appearances since the start of the season.
One of the most impressive things about Pioli’s side has been the way a number of players have contributed in the goalscoring department, sharing the burden in the absence of their talismanic striker. Franck Kessie, Hakan Calhanoglu and Raphael Leão have all chipped in with six goals each but aside from the aforementioned Portuguese striker, in terms of ‘natural’ centre-forwards, the Italian boss’ options have been very limited .
And that’s where Mandzukic comes in.
In the Croatian, the Rossoneri have signed a player with a wealth of experience in a number of Europe’s top leagues. During his time with Juventus, he made 118 appearances in Serie A, scoring 31 goals and if Ibrahimovic continues to have fitness issues between now and May, taking all of the above into account, Mandzukic feels like somebody Pioli could rely on.
Despite being 34 years old, the player’s move to Qatar raised many eyebrows and it’s one that was likely made due to its financial appeal. However, Mandzukic’s stay in the Middle-East was short-lived but having left Al-Duhail in July, it remains to be seen how long the player will need to get up to speed and be available for selection.
The 6 ft 2in striker will no doubt offer a physical presence, the ability to hold up the ball, and offer the team a focal point in attack as well as carrying a significant goal threat – much like the aforementioned Zlatan.
Financially, the deal makes perfect sense for Milan who have bolstered their striking options without having to lay out a transfer fee and tactically, Mandzukic appears to fit in seamlessly.
Only time will tell if the signing will be a success but given the very minimal risk and all of the above, this could prove to be the masterstroke that sees Pioli’s side maintain their challenge for their first Scudetto since 2011 right up until the end of the season.