Mario Mandzukic and Robert Lewandowski are not just ruthless finishers, they also never forget to put in a defensive shift too. Bayern Munich's Croatia star and Borussia Dortmund's Polish international are both prolific scorers at the highest level, but have also won admirers for their commitment to the team cause.
Both are powerfully built, but also possess stamina, pace and good technical ability. The two No9s embody the textbook definition of a contemporary forward, and both have made significant contributions to their teams reaching Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final.
In the build-up to the Wembley showdown between Germany’s top two clubs, FIFA.com has examined and compared Mandzukic and Lewandowski's facts and stats. Enjoy our dissection of the strengths and weaknesses of two of the most in-demand players in Europe.
Mandzukic: 27 (born 21 May 1986)
Lewandowski: 24 (born 21 August 1988)
At 27 and 24 respectively, each man has undoubtedly hit the high point of his career thus far. Both Mandzukic and Lewandowski won their spurs in their home countries, before switching to the German Bundesliga for the 2010/11 campaign. Mandzukic arrived with one Croatian top flight top scorer accolade to his name, with Lewandowski boasting the same achievement from both the first and second divisions in Poland.
Mandzukic is a relatively late developer, as Lewandowski arrived in Germany at the still tender age of 21. They have two further things in common: first, both were relative unknowns before switching to the Bundesliga; and secondly, they each required a period of acclimatisation before emerging from the shadows of a big-name rival at their clubs. In the case of the Croat at Wolfsburg, he started out as an understudy to Bosnia's Edin Dzeko, whereas the Pole was second in line to Paraguay hitman Lucas Barrios in Dortmund.
Mandzukic: 1.87 m
Lewandowski: 1.84 m
Mandzukic stands 3 cm taller than Lewandowski, but both are a handful for defenders due to their robust physical presence. When either has the ball at his feet with his back to goal, his sheer physical size makes it hard for defenders to challenge fairly, as both are excellent at holding up the play. As Lewandowski's team-mate Mats Hummels has said: “I'm delighted Robert’s on my team, because defending against him is probably the toughest task I could imagine."
Both strikers rate as aerial powerhouses, even against the tallest defenders. Good timing and optimal use of their stature mean the players cause disarray in a defensive line with headers and flicks. Mandzukic rates as a shade stronger in the air, with Lewandowski the better of the pair with the ball on the ground. The Croat scores a higher proportion of his goals with headers and also wins more aerial challenges than the Pole, although Lewandowski is almost without equal in terms of controlling long passes out of defence and holding up the play until team-mates arrive in support.
Mandzukic arrived in Wolfsburg bearing winner’s medals from three Croatian championships and two knockout cups. He was unable to add to his collection with the Wolves, but his first season with Bayern has already produced silverware. Just a few weeks after he was signed, Munich collected the 2012 German Supercup in a 2-1 victory over - no surprises here – Dortmund, a game in which both Mandzukic and Lewandowski found the target. And just a few weeks ago, Mandzukic was acknowledging the cheers from the balcony of Munich Town Hall as Germany's most successful club celebrated their 23rd national championship.
Lewandowski had also tasted success before switching to BVB, winning the Polish league, Cup and Supercup with Lech Poznan. He has since added two Bundesliga titles and a German Cup triumph. On the European stage, neither man has an honour to his name yet. For one of the two, that is about to change.
Goals and assists in the UEFA Champions League 2012/13:
Mandzukic: 3 (2 goals, 1 assist in 9 matches)
Lewandowski: 12 (10 goals, 2 assists in 12 matches)
Lewandowski is well ahead on this score. Even the fact that Mandzukic has made three fewer appearances than his Dortmund counterpart does not diminish the fact that Lewandowski has scored or contributed to nine more goals than him.
On average, Lewandowski has played a part in a goal in each of his side's games in the Champions League, whereas the equivalent for Mandzukic is one goal or assist in every three matches. “But my job here isn't just to score goals. In the first instance, I'm here to work for the team," the Croat explained.
It was Lewandowski who turned in arguably the best individual performance of the competition to date with a stunning four-goal haul in the semi-final first leg against Real Madrid. Mandzukic has been rather more restrained so far, but is he saving his best for the final?
Total transfer fees paid:
Mandzukic is streets ahead in this respect, due to a €7m transfer to Wolfsburg and the €13m switch to Bayern. Lewandowski cost BVB €4.5m at the time, a relative bargain given the player's current estimated market value of some €28m.
The Polish super striker is in scintillating form at present and has been linked with a string of big-name clubs, all holding the necessary funds to acquire his signature, so the Dortmund man could soon strike back in terms of transfer value. Ironically enough, widespread media reports suggest the front runners are Bayern, so there is a good possibility the pair could be fighting it out for a regular place in the not too distant future. It's yet another reason why both players will be looking to state their credentials in Saturday’s showdown.
Goals for the national team:
Mandzukic: 11 goals in 40 matches
Lewandowski: 17 goals in 53 matches
Neither striker is likely to forget UEFA EURO 2012 in a hurry. Lewandowski and the entire Polish nation approached the tournament on home soil with high hopes and great expectations, but it all ended in disappointment. The player did score the first goal of the EURO in the opening match against Greece, but the Poles ended up on a miserly two points and were knocked out at the group stage.
By contrast, the tournament was Mandzukic’s big breakthrough on the international stage. Three goals and impressive displays against Italy and Spain alerted Bayern to his potential, and although the Croats also failed to survive the preliminary stage, the striker finished fourth in the tournament scoring chart and ultimately landed up at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
However, the Pole once again boasts a higher goal-per-game average for his country, as he has hit the target approximately every third match for Poland. Mandzukic has scored in around one in four of his appearances for the national team.
Distance covered in the UEFA Champions League 2012/13:
Mandzukic: 76.5 km in 630 minutes
Lewandowski: 123.1 km in 1,000 minutes
Both men have been praised to the skies for unstinting service to their teams. Lewandowski has covered an average of 11.1 km per 90 minutes in the current Champions League campaign, but Mandzukic is only just behind on 10.9 km. Both help to prise apart defences by dragging markers out of position, and neither man is a goal hanger: both track back frequently, effectively forming the first line of their own team's defence.
“In the past, strikers simply looked for the gaps and waited for chances to come along. Nowadays I have to be permanently on the move, helping to create openings for others," Lewandowski summarised. Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes, himself a world-class striker in his time, recognises the same quality on Mandzukic: “He's an outstanding team player."
The strikers are dead level in one other area: both have committed 24 fouls in the Champions League so far, the same as Mandzukic’s Spanish team-mate Javi Martinez, a defensive midfielder with the specific job of breaking up the play. Perhaps it’s not an entirely positive stat, but it speaks volumes, as the two strikers and Martinez are ‘top of the class’ for fouls committed in Europe's elite club competition this season. In summary, Mandzukic and Lewandowski's goals have made them crowd heroes, but their immense and tireless efforts for their teams raises them to a new, exemplary level.