The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is still searching for his first Serie A goal, as he was once again upstaged by the Croat in a 2-1 win at Parma
Last April, the Bianconeri board told the veteran striker that they would not stand in his way if he wanted to leave. By April, two lucrative offers had already arrived from China. More were expected to follow, from the Premier League and La Liga.
However, after his heroic performances leading the line for Croatia during the World Cup, Juve were delighted that Mandzukic decided to stay put.
After all, with Gonzalo Higuain having been sent to AC Milan, he would provide quality cover for Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa – the all-star front three on which the Bianconeri would base their bid for Champions League glory.
Mandzukic had other ideas, though. While everyone else was swept away by the wave of enthusiasm that greeted Ronaldo’s arrival in Serie A, the 32-year-old was getting himself back in prime physical condition after his exploits in Russia.
At one point during pre-season, he and Leonardo Bonucci were approached by a camera crew from JTV, Mandzukic stopped them in their tracks. “No videos, just work,” he grunted in characteristically caustic fashion, before breaking into a mischievous grin.
It was classic Mandzukic. Just like his performances so far this season.
In Juve’s opener against Chievo, he came off the bench with Juve trailing and, in conjunction with Federico Bernardeschi, turned the game around.
He was rewarded with a start against Lazio the following weekend and opened his account for the season, volleying home emphatically after the ball had rebounded up into the air off Ronaldo’s heel.
There was a large slice of fortune about his goal against Parma on Saturday night, too, with Mandzukic converting after the ball again falling nicely for him after an aerial challenge.
However, there was nothing remotely lucky about the ingenious back-heel that put Blaise Matuidi in to score the game’s winning goal midway through the second half.
The Frenchman’s strike was well-deserved. He had provided incessant industry in gruelling encounter for Juve, one in which they had again flattered to deceive.
The same could be said of Ronaldo. While he had performed well in his first two Serie A outings, here, at the Ennio Tardini, he was a peripheral and frustrated figure. Nothing he tried quite came off.
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However, as Ciro Ferrara mused during the week, Juve’s shape is more of a concern than whether Ronaldo will eventually start scoring in Italy. Indeed, the two are undeniably linked, with coach Massimiliano Allegri still trying to work out how to get the best out of Ronaldo, but also Paulo Dybala and Costa, both of whom started on the bench.
Juve have made a perfect start to the season but this is a side with many flaws. As we head into the international break the only sure thing is that when we come out of it, Mandzukic will be the first forward on the team sheet.
Ronaldo may be Juve’s superstar but, for now, Mandzukic remains their most effective leading man