Why It’s Worth Keeping Track of Juve’s Cuadrado-Mandzukic Partnership

MandJuventus and Inter played out a 0-0 draw last weekend, and if there was a moment that summarised things, it came in the closing minutes. As the game wandered towards its conclusion, Juan Cuadrado launched a cross into the area, towards the far post. Mario Mandzukic arrived at exactly that position, ready to make something of the Colombian’s delivery, before slipping over in a manner that suggested a rug had been pulled out from under his feet.

That, in essence, was how things went for Juventus. They huffed and puffed, and they very nearly scored on a number of occasions, but they just couldn’t get the finish they needed. Mandzukic was particularly guilty in this regard, as he had a number of opportunities to score, most of which were created by Cuadrado’s brilliant crosses from the right-hand side.

That makes it a tricky game to judge for the Old Lady. They did a lot right, stifling Inter’s attacking exploits in the first half before then completely controlling proceedings in the second period of play. They also found a sharp way of creating chances of their own, swinging quick balls out to Cuadrado and then hoping that he could find Mandzukic at the far post. That happened plenty of times, but again, things just didn’t quite come together.

To be more specific on the Cuadrado-Mandzukic relationship, they were the wingers in Max Allegri’s 4-3-3 formation. Cuadrado played on the right and Mandzukic played on the left, but they operated in very different ways. The Croatian, who is naturally a striker, eased into central locations whenever possible, hoping to get on the end of goalscoring opportunities. Cuadrado, on the other side, stayed high and wide, with the aim of whipping in sharp crosses. This dynamic could be seen as early as the 8th minute, when Miralem Pjanic, who acted as Juve’s deep-lying playmaker, slipped a quick ball out to Cuadrado. The Colombian followed up with a cross that, via a deflection, found Mandzukic at the far post.

That led to two shots from the big man, the first of which was saved by Samir Handanovic before the second was cleared off the line by Joao Miranda. In essence, the finishing touches weren’t there, but the lead-up play most certainty was. That, of course, was the reason for Juve using this combination so frequently. It allowed them to generate a number of opportunities, and if they could’ve made use of them, they would’ve scored the goal, or even goals, that they needed to win this match.

In the 44th minute, for instance, Cuadraro outpointed Davide Santon, his direct opponent in Inter’s backline, to tee up Mandzukic with a lovely curling cross. The towering forward used his height advantage to rise above his direct opponent, Inter fullback Danilo D’Ambrosio, to head the ball hard at the target. Again, his intention wasn’t fulfilled, as his shot met the crossbar and floated out of bounds. Mandzukic responded with a smile of frustration, almost as if to suggest that, ordinarily, he would’ve scored a goal or two by this point in time. He hadn’t, though, and Inter were still in the hunt because of it.

In truth, the thinking was good from Juvetus. Allegri recognised that his wide men could get some joy against Inter’s fullbacks, and he tried to capitalise on this. Cuadrado was so sharp, so speedy and so capable of beating Santon that he did so time and time again, with the Italian defender eventually booked in the second half for fouling the former Chelsea man. Not long after, he was substituted for Dalbert, and though this was due to injury, there was a sense that Inter needed to make the change for tactical reasons anyway. By the conclusion of the match, Cuadrado had generated four key passes and four successful dribbles, and his ability to create from the right-hand side had been arguably the most impressive feature of Juventus’ performance.

On the other side of the pitch, meanwhile, Mandzukic clearly had the size advantage over D’Ambrosio, and he was always going to look to use it by getting into the area to try and win aerial duels. In fact, four of the former Bayern Munich striker’s six shots were headed attempts, so to say he was beating D’Ambrosio in the air would be an understatement.

So, when combined, Cuadrado’s crosses and Mandzukic’s ability to latch onto them were important for Juve. They were their major route to goal, or at least to opportunities to score goals, and Allegri’s men were fully aware of it. They hammered this option wherever possible, usually through some lovely passes from deeper locations to give possession to Cuadrado as soon as they could. It didn’t lead to any tangible end-product this time around, but the idea was there, as was the chance creation.

Put simply, Mandzukic didn’t have a great night in front of goal, but when the Italian giants play Bologna in their next Serie A fixture, it’s worth looking out for the Cuadrado and Mandzukic pairing yet again.

Who knows, they might even be able to combine for a goal or two.