After a prolonged period out of fashion in Europe, strike partnerships have seen something of a revival and also a resurgence in the last couple of seasons. A number of sides last season had significant success playing a variant of 4-4-2 or with a pair of central attackers somehow. The top two sides in the English Premier League both used two strikers effectively at times, Manchester City with Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, and to an extent the Argentinian Aguero and Bosnian forward Edin Dzeko much later on in the season, whilst Liverpool had Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge at their disposal. Atlético Madrid cruised to victory in La Liga using a 4-4-2 formation and their cross-city rivals and eventual Champions League final opponents Real started adjusting their 4-3-3 late in the season to start playing 4-4-2 more regularly in games, most notably in the Copa Del Ray final and games against Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga also started to use Marco Reus as a second striker to Robert Lewandowski in the latter stages of the 2013/14 season.
Last season Atlético Madrid predominantly used David Villa and Diego Costa as their two strikers. Spanish striker Villa was the main man tasked with stretching the play and in fellow Spaniard Diego Costa they had a dynamic forward who could act as both a powerful hold up player with his strength, physicality and arial powers, but also someone who himself could stretch the play with his decent pace and intelligent movement. And as the season went on and Villa’s goals started to dry up whilst Diego Costa’s fitness started to suffer, Atlético had to adjust and consequently started to use Raul Garcia in much more central areas as a partner to either of them. A nasty, aggressive arial presence, with a real impact defensively.
But with Diego Costa off to Chelsea, Atlético soon had to accept they weren’t going to replace him with a striker quite as dynamic, and instead focused on acquiring two quality forwards who, combined equate to his best qualities and both work and function in a very similar way to the old parings. Instead of directly replacing Diego Costa, Atléti effectively upgraded on Villa and Garcia with Frenchman Antoine Griezmann and Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic, previously of Bundesliga champions Bayern Munchen. Griezmann using his pace and immense finishing ability, and perhaps an unheralded arial ability – four of his 14 league goals this season have been from his head – has become the clubs primary goal scorer. Mandzukic has a strong case for having the best offensive header in world football. Since the start of the 2010/11 season he’s scored thirty eight headers, out of his eighty one goals – working out at a rate of almost one every three games. He uses his immense prowess in the air as his main attacking weapon but also helps in linking up play. Additionally he’s also the man tasked with doing the dirty work and like Garcia works both aggressively and hard defensively.
Manager Diego Simeone didn’t opt to use them as a strike partnership to the same effect much earlier on in the season, but such a system has been used as the norm in the last couple of months with immense success and somewhat instant results on the pitch. Not only have they complemented each other perfectly, but their combined play together has also been prolific. And the numbers are revealing. In both La Liga and the Champions League this season, Griezmann is averaging 0.84 non penalty goals per game, Mandzukic 0.54. When on the pitch together as strikers this season they have also scored nineteen non penalty goals together in just over one thousand minutes, with six assists, four of which saw the duo set each other up. All in all, they’re simply scoring for fun together and helping each other do it in the process.
Admittedly when both are in form, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo likely trump them as the best strike partnership. But at the moment in consideration of form and recent performances, Mandzukic and Griezmann are in my opinion the best strike partnership in the world. If they can sustain it, Atlético will have more than enough firepower to remain a European heavyweight and a major contender for titles not just in Spain but throughout Europe.
Article written by: @Reunewal