Mario’s Magnificence: Is Mandžukić FC Bayern’s MVP?

It has been another incredibly memorable season for FC Bayern München.  Runaway winners in the Bundesliga in record time, Champions League semi-finalists for the fourth time in the past five seasons, a domestic cup final against bitter rivals Dortmund, and a serious flirtation with an unbeaten season are just some of the highlights of this current campaign.  So with the season winding down to its conclusion, it is about the time that football journalists, writers, and bloggers alike begin compiling their end of the year awards.

This particular blogger decided to take on the unenviable task of attempting to select the most valuable player on a team full of superstars who are staring down the prospect of doing an unprecedented treble in consecutive years.  A team who at times functioned so harmoniously that any number of players (or perhaps even none at all) could be considered for the title of most valuable.  Simple task, right?

Well in case you’ve just glossed over the title of this piece, my choice for FC Bayern’s most valuable player for this season is, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić.  Here is, in no uncertain terms, my argument in favour of Super Mario.

By the Numbers

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some kind of statistical analysis as part of my defence in favour of Mandžukić’s status as most valuable Bayern player.  A few housekeeping items first: all raw statistical data is courtesy squawka.com and transfermarkt.de; in order to try to capture the best possible comparisons of player statistics in the below tables, I have used the per90 metric, which you can familiarize yourself with at the excellent statsbomb.com website; finally rather than comparing Mandžukić’s stats with those of his fellow Bayern players, I figured a comparison of his statistics in relation to other premiere strikers would provide a better picture of his overall value to his own club.

So without further ado.

MM vs. the Bundesliga (per 90) i

MM RL SK K-JH
Goals 0.83 0.61 0.52 0.74
Assists 0.18 0.21 0.1 0
Key Passes 1.15 1.81 1.18 0.27
Shots On 2.03 1.92 1.36 1.47
Aerials Won 3.41 4.02 6.29 3.28
Tackles Won 0.6 0.43 0.91 0.27
Interceptions 0.55 0.21 0.59 0.4
Clearances 0.23 0.46 1.08 1.14
Blocks 0.05 0 0.1 0.07
[i] Mario Mandžukić, Robert Lewandowski, Stefan Kießling, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

In terms of his Bundesliga numbers, Mario Mandžukić compares very favourably to his peers. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you really think about it as FC Bayern is about as dominant an offensive side in the Bundesliga as you could draw up.  A quick examination of the ‘offensive’ categories tells us that the primary striker on such an offensively gifted side would have very good offensive numbers to which we can infer that Mario Mandžukić contributes his fair share to Bayern’s attack.

Looking briefly at the ‘defensive’ statistics shows us that Mandžukić is also no slouch when it comes to his responsibilities in those rare instances when Bayern are not in possession of the ball.  His relative low number of clearances per 90 minutes is indicative of the fact that Bayern don’t have to defend many corners or crosses from the opposing side and his relatively high numbers in tackles won and interceptions tends to tell us that he’s rather suited for a high pressing form of defending.

Now some may say that looking at solely Bundesliga numbers doesn’t tell us the whole story, to which I wholeheartedly agree.

MM vs. the UEFA Champions League (per 90) ii.

MM   RL   CR   DC   ZI   WR
Goals 0.53 0.67 1.78 1.28 1.35 0.24
Assists 0.35 0.22 0.38 0.18 0 0.59
Key Passes 1.23 1.23 1.9 1.65 1.9 1.53
Shots On 1.23 1.45 3.81 2.56 2.71 1.06
Aerials Won 3.68 2.78 1.65 0.91 1.9 0.83
Tackles Won 1.05 0.33 0.38 0.18 0.95 1.18
Interceptions 1.05 0.45 0.13 0.18 0 0.35
Clearances 0.53 0.45 0.51 0.55 1.76 1.3
Blocks 0 0 0.13 0.73 0 0.24
[i] Mario Mandžukić, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney

 

When you look at the statistical comparisons for the UEFA Champions League, where you would assume that, at the very least in the knockout stages, the competition is elevated from that of the domestic league, we can see something quite different about Mario Mandžukić’s numbers.

On the ‘offensive’ side of the coin Mandžukić doesn’t stand out in terms of his statistics.  We see a rise in his ‘playmaking’ stats over those of the Bundesliga, but in terms of Bayern’s reliance on him to score goals he’s not nearly as vital to his team continentally as he is domestically, and he doesn’t compare very favourably against his peers in these categories.

What about when we have a look at Mandžukić’s ‘defensive’ statistics?  It is in these numbers where we see his true value to his club’s success.  In the Champions League, Bayern are still one of, if not the top club, in terms of their possession statistic.  When they don’t have the ball however, they are incredibly keen on getting it back using a very intense pressing system coupled with sound on field positioning so as to take away passing lanes for their opposition.  This works best when all players are dedicated to the system of defence.  Judging from his relatively high value in aerials won, tackles won, and interceptions, Mario Mandžukić has definitely bought into what Pep Guardiola is selling.

Beyond the Numbers: Versatility and Professionalism

So (hopefully) I’ve established a strong statistical base in defense of my claim of Mario Mandžukić as FC Bayern’s MVP.  But what exactly do these numbers translate to?

Tactically speaking, Mandžukić could be looked at as Pep Guardiola’s ideal centre forward.  Mandžukić’s appears to be dialled in to his manager’s defensive system, which is only enhanced by his extremely high work rate where he is constantly harassing opposition defenders when Bayern are not in possession of the ball.  There’s something rather Miroslav Klose about how Mandžukić tracks back.  It is refreshing to see from your centre forward.

And he is definitely not static in terms of his positioning when Bayern do have the ball where he is often times drifting out to the wings or dropping back in order to draw defenders towards him and create space for his attacking teammates.  Coupling that with his ruthlessness in front of goal (70% shot accuracy and a 41% conversion rate in the Bundesliga) and this makes him a very well-rounded player offensively.

But there is even another facet to his game that is definitely considered intangible.  When you look at his minutes played in relation to some of his peers at striker, you cannot help but notice that Mandžukić’s playing time is on the lower end of the spectrum, such is Guardiola’s squad rotation and sometime reliance on a false 9 in the attacking line up.  But Mandžukić has not only accepted this but has seized upon his chances while he has been in the starting line up, or even as a substitute as evidenced by his goal against Eintracht Braunschweig last weekend, having come on as a late match substitute.

Finally, and perhaps even more intangible is his apparent professionalism in the face of Bayern signing his potential successor in the upcoming summer transfer window.  In spite of all of the fanfare of the Robert Lewandowski signing, Mandžukić had remained the consummate professional, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that he extends his contract beyond the 2015-2016 season.  If Mandžukić does feel some enmity towards his parent club, you wouldn’t be able to tell in the press and perhaps more importantly on the pitch.

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, it is probably a fool’s errand to attempt to pick out just one player from this Bayern squad that can truly be considered their most valuable player of this season, yet here we are some 1,300 words later and I think there have been some rather compelling arguments made in Mario Mandžukić’s favour.  But mine is only one opinion.  I’d be very interested to see if there are others that share this opinion, but for that we’ll have to wait for everyone else to get their end of the year awards to the public.


[i] Mario Mandžukić, Robert Lewandowski, Stefan Kießling, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

[ii] Mario Mandžukić, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney

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Born in Toronto, Adrian is a first generation Canadian by way of Bavaria and the Black Forest. After some intense football soul searching he's now a fully fledged member of the Church of Streich. Follow @AdrianSertl

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