Classic number 9’s: how Mandzukic can replace Diego Costa

As seen in my previous article there is very little difference between last season’s stats of Diego Costa and those of the man who will replace him at Atlético Madrid the coming season(s): Mario Mandzukic. This made me decide to investigate them some more. Moreover, I was already trying to watch some statistics from some strikers who can be considered as “classic #9’s” – all right, not as classic as Bierhoff – as I got the feeling they were some kind of dying breed. No more Ronaldo’s. No more Owen’s. No more Inzaghi’s. No more Van Nistelrooy’s. No more (well, a little) Klose’s and Toni’s. But maybe that topic is something for later..!

Returning to the beginning of the article though: how can Mandzukic replace Costa in Atleti’s team this season?

Player comparison

I quickly copy the comparison table I used in the mentioned blog to show the very similar stats of both ‘poachers’ in the 2013-14 season (Leagues and Champions League).

What is evident from those statistics is that both Costa and Mandzukic have high numbers of shots (both 1.75 per 90 minutes), a high conversion rate (25% and 26%) and resulting, a high amount of goals (0.74 and 0.71 per 90 minutes).

Playing role

Mandzukic is the most classic number 9 of the two. Although both play as deep-lying forwards, the Croat played in a role as a single striker in either a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 system last season at Bayern. For Diego Costa this was a bit different. Sometimes playing as the only striker with either Raul Garcia or Adrián in his back as a number 10 (4-4-1-1), but more often being accompanied in the attack by David Villa or this same Adrián (4-4-2).

Goal scoring characteristics

Both Mandzukic and Diego Costa made all except 1 of their goals from inside the penalty area, confirming their playing roles as poachers. Their goals were assisted by their team mates in 93% (Costa) and 90% (Mandzukic) of the cases, meaning that they created little goals by themselves. (The 2 two unassisted goals by Mandzukic were a deflected Free kick and a rebound from the keeper).

Both strikers made 95+% of their goals from inside the penalty area.

I made a quick analysis of the situations (the game score) in which they put themselves on the scoreboard and those are also pretty much the same: Diego Costa’s had a direct influence* on the score with 44% of his goals, Mandzukic with 43%.

The main difference between the two seems to lie in the way they convert their goals. Whereas Costa converted 3 of his 29 goals with his head, Mandzukic did this with 10 of his 21 goals.

This is also reflected in they way they receive their assists, or maybe phrased differently, which passes they turned into goals:

Diego Costa scored 14 goals after having received a through pass, in which in 9 of the situations he ran with the ball from outside the area into the box before executing. Mandzukic on the other hand scored 17 of his 19 assisted goals from crosses from either the right (11) or the left (6) side. He received 2 through passes (from Robben and from .. Neuer!) outside the penalty area which he converted once inside the box. The remaining 17 assisted goals he all scored with his first touch:

Mandzukic: 21 goals – 19 assisted – 2 through balls and 17 crosses – 17 converted with first touch

Mandzukic’ 18 Bundesliga goals of last season:


From this latter part it can be concluded that Mandzukic needs to be supported by his team mates in a different way than Diego Costa: less through balls and more crosses from either side of the pitch.

And looking at it from this perspective it might not be that bad that Atleti lost Villa (2 assists) and Adrián (2 assists), who mostly played in the center of the field. The managed to hold on to (the GREAT) Koke, who gave the second highest amount of assists in La Liga last season (13) and who operates mainly from the right side. Moreover, the arrival of Griezmann (€25M), generally playing from the left at Real Sociedad last season, can be very suitable for Mandzukic’ needs. Griezmann had the highest completion rate of crosses of all players at the 2014 World Cup with more than 10 attempts (57%).

Combining all the data I can see Mandzukic score 20+ goals in La Liga next season!

*a goal leading to an advantage of the player’s team (1-0, 2-1, 3-2, etc.) or a draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.)

(Note: all data that have been used comes from, and/or

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