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Mario Mandzukic could make the difference for AC Milan in Serie A title race

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New AC Milan signing Mario Mandzukic says he is “ready” for the challenge after returning to Serie A with a free transfer from Qatari side Al-Duhail, but what difference can he make for the Stefano Pioli’s team this season?

At the start of the campaign, very few would have predicted that the Rossoneri would fly high at the top of the division, 18 games and ten points clear of defending 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 39 – having been a revelation. The Swede has not been without problems this season, however, missing two games early after testing positive for coronavirus and eight games due to muscle injuries.

Cagliari Calcio v AC Milan - Serie A
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in good shape for Milan this season, scoring 12 times in eight Serie A appearances this season | Emanuele Perrone / Getty Images

That said, none of the above has stopped the player from having a hugely positive impact on Milan’s campaign – scoring an impressive 12 goals in just eight league appearances since the start of the season.

One of the most impressive things about Pioli’s squad has been the way a number of players have contributed in the goal department, sharing the burden in the absence of their talismanic striker. Franck Kessie, Hakan Calhanoglu and Raphael Leão all scored six goals apiece, but apart from the aforementioned Portuguese striker, in terms of a “natural” center-forward, the Italian boss’s options have been very limited.

And that’s where Mandzukic comes in.

In Croatian, the Rossoneri have recruited a player with a wealth of experience in a number of top European leagues. During his time with Juventus he made 118 Serie A appearances, scoring 31 goals and while Ibrahimovic continues to have form issues between now and May, given all of the above, Mandzukic feels that someone one that Pioli could count on.

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Mario Mandzukic won the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich in 2013 | Boris Streubel / Getty Images

Despite being 34 years old, the player’s move to Qatar raised a lot of eyebrows and it’s probably the one that was done due to his 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 level up and be available for selection.

The 6-foot-2 forward will undoubtedly offer physical presence, the ability to hold the ball, and provide the team with an attacking focal point as well as a significant goal threat – much like the aforementioned Zlatan.

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Mandzukic has already won four Scudetti during his time at Juventus | Soccrates Images / Getty Images

Financially, the deal makes perfect sense for Milan who have stepped up their strike options without having to budget for transfer fees and tactically, Mandzukic seems to fit in perfectly.

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 will allow Pioli’s team to maintain their challenge for their first. Scudetto since 2011 until the end of the season.

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