Mandzukic world's best striker – Pep

The Spaniard has hailed the aerial strength of his forward and says his prowess in the air is a unique asset unrivalled in the game

Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola believes Mario Mandzukic’s heading ability marks him out as the best forward in world football.

The Croatia striker struck twice in the Bavarians’ 3-2 win over Hertha Berlin on Saturday to take his tally for the season to seven goals in 10 Bundesliga appearances.

The arrival of Guardiola at the Allianz Arena had led to speculation that Mandzukic could be surplus to requirements as a result of the Spaniard’s preference for a striker-less ‘false nine’ system during his time with Barcelona.

But the 27-year-old has hit the ground running on the back of his 20 goals in all competitions last season and earned the highest of praise from his coach in the process.

Guardiola told reporters after the game: “With his ability to head the ball inside the penalty area, Mandzukic is the best forward in the world.”

Saturday’s victory was Bayern’s eighth in 10 league games and continues their unbeaten start to the season, but Guardiola emphasised just how difficult a test his side had overcome this weekend.

“Berlin are the best team we’ve played against,” he added.

Mario Gotze scored FCB’s third with his first league goal for the club since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in a €37 million deal over the summer, with the victory maintaining Bayern’s one-point lead over second-placed BVB.

Ribery praises Bayern home run

The France international lauded his side’s record in their own backyard, while Mario Gotze was understandably satisfied after coming through 70 minutes of action unscathed

Franck Ribery thinks Bayern Munich are turning Allianz Arena into a fortress after they racked up yet another home win on Saturday, against Hertha Berlin.

The Bavarians have a perfect record in their own backyard this season and their French winger was delighted that they managed to extend their winning run with a hard-fought 3-2 victory, which came courtesy of a Mario Mandzukic double and Mario Gotze’s first goal for the club.

We’ve had three home games in a week, and we’ve won all three – that’s superb,” Ribery told reporters after the match.

It was very difficult today. Hertha played extremely well and covered a huge amount of ground.”

Gotze, meanwhile, was pleased with his contribution, although he admitted that he is still not fully fit.

Hertha aren’t where they are in the table for nothing, they were really dangerous,” the €37 million signing mused. “It was tough going and we’re genuinely delighted about the three points.

“Playing 70 minutes was important for me. I’m not yet at 100 percent, but that’s normal.”

However, Bayern boss Pep Guardiola had to contend with injuries to Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben, who pulled out of the match before the half-hour mark due to groin trouble.

The pair join Xherdan Shaqiri, Thiago Alcantara and Dante in the treatment room, though Javi Martinez made his comeback from groin surgery as a substitute.

Guardiola: Bayern need a break

The Spaniard is delighted that his players now have a week off so that they can recuperate ahead of their next fixture

Pep Guardiola admitted his relief that Bayern Munich’s exhaustive run of fixtures is at an end, following their narrow 3-2 win against Hertha Berlin on Saturday.

The capital club had surged into an early lead before Mario Mandzukic, who struck twice, and Mario Gotze responded for the treble winners, although Anis Ben-Hatira then set up a nervy finish for the Bavarians after the break.

Guardiola attributed Bayern being off the boil to his men being down to their last legs after the recent spate of international and European fixures.

We weren’t very good today,” the 42-year-old coach told reporters after the match.

“In the coming week, we have time to regenerate and prepare for the trip to Hoffenheim. My players need the time.

“We’ve played a lot of matches in the last two months and they’re a little tired, as we all saw today.“

Captain Philipp Lahm echoed his coach’s sentiments, explaining the prolonged stretch of games had taken its toll on the Bavarians’ performances.

“You could see we were weary, mentally as well as physically. But in this situation, the important thing is to take the three points,” the Germany international emphasised. 

“We’re looking forward to the normal week coming up now. It’s been a packed programme, especially for the internationals.

“We’ve changed a lot of things around, which requires plenty of concentration and alertness, but it gets to you. It’s good we can clear our heads now.“ 

Despite their packed schedule however, Bayern have surged to the top of the Bundesliga and sit a point clear of closest rivals Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern Munich 3-2 Hertha Berlin: Pep's men edge five-goal thriller

Mario Gotze scored his first Bundesliga goal for Bayern Munich as the reigning champions beat Hertha Berlin 3-2 on Saturday afternoon.

Adrian Lopez gave Hertha an early lead, but Mario Mandzukic scored four minutes after replacing the injured Arjen Robben and then put the Bundesliga leaders in front with another header early in the second half.

Mario Gotze had come on just before the Croatia striker when Toni Kroos also picked up an injury and the midfielder made the most of his chance by scoring a third Bayern goal at the Allianz Arena.

Hertha were dangerous going forward and Anis Ben-Hatira pulled a goal back, but Pep Guardiola’s side were not to be denied as they maintained their 100 per cent home record this season.

The victory ensured the European champions are just one game away from equalling Hamburg’s 30-year record of 36 Bundesliga games without defeat and they were also boosted by the return of Javi Martinez, who came off the bench to make his first apperance for two months following a knee injury.

Mandzukic and defender Diego Contento dropped to the bench as Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng returned to the starting line-up after being rested and suspended respectively for the midweek Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen.

There were two changes to the visitors’ starting line-up following their win over Borussia Monchengladbach, as midfielder Tolga Cigerci and defender Nico Schulz were handed starts by coach Jos Luhukay.

And Luhukay’s charges stunned Bayern just three minutes in, when the unmarked Ramos rose to meet Per Ciljan Skjelbred’s corner and planted a header into the bottom-right corner of Manuel Neuer’s net.

Things almost went from bad to worse for the European champions five minutes later, as Ben-Hatira’s deft lob bounced down off the crossbar with Neuer beaten.

Bayern were struggling to get going until Gotze and Mandzukic replaced Kroos and Robben.

The Croatia striker took just four minutes to make his presence felt as he rose at the back post to head home Franck Ribery’s free-kick.

Hertha continued to threaten and it needed a great challenge from Bastian Schweinsteiger to get across and ensure Cigerci’s shot deflected over the bar.

Schweinsteiger then showed his class at the other end, six minutes after the break, as he delivered an inviting free kick, which Mandzukic met with a downward header into the far corner from 10 yards.

Kraft should really have done better and was beaten again three minutes later. This time Gotze was in the right place to head Rafinha’s cross into the far corner as the Hertha keeper scrambled across in vain.

But Hertha were not finished yet and they were back in it on 57 minutes when Ben-Hatira diverted Ramos’s mis-hit shot into the roof of the net.

Ramos was a thorn in Bayern’s side and his long-range strike was tipped over by Neuer. He then appealed for a penalty for a push by Alaba in stoppage-time, but the referee waved play on and Bayern held on for another win.

Messi and Ronaldo’s last chance to stop Ribery – the Clasico that decides the 2013 Ballon d'Or winner

The pair who are held aloft as the game’s best by many have one final opportunity to stake a claim for the world player award ahead of Bayern Munich’s star man

By Kris Voakes

As with most clashes between Barcelona and Real Madrid, this Saturday’s Clasico is set to be centred around the magnificent figures of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But whereas the figureheads of the two Spanish giants are usually embroiled in a battle for the Fifa Ballon d’Or, this time around the pair are simply competing to be even considered.

Franck Ribery’s sensational form with Champions League-winning Bayern Munich during 2013 has already helped him to pip the perennial award winners to the Uefa Player of the Season trophy for 2012-13, and he currently stands as a clear favourite for the main prize at the Ballon d’Or gala in January. But with the shortlist set to be announced on Tuesday, this weekend’s Clasico clash comes at the perfect time for one of Messi and Ronaldo to stake a late claim for the award.

It is arguable that Ribery’s performances in Bayern’s treble-winning side have already stacked up enough credit to end Messi’s four-year run of victories in the Best Player category of football’s homage to the Oscars, but immediacy often plays its part in such events. Should either the Argentine or the Portuguese turn in a blinder at Camp Nou, then it will be difficult for voters to think back beyond a huge performance in one of the world’s biggest twice-annual sporting fixtures.

BALLON D’OR WINNERS | Individual kings since 2008
Year Winner Second Place
Third Place

As if proof were needed, Messi and Ronaldo have now collected five straight Ballons d’Or between them, with last year’s 2-2 Clasico draw thought to have helped to clinch the award for the Barca No.10. Many claimed the clash would settle the world player gong, with Ronaldo needing to outperform his big rival in order to strike gold, but the two cancelled each other out with a brace of goals each.

And that was nothing new. In four of the last five years, Ronaldo and Messi have hogged the top two spots in the voting between them. It has become a simple way of life, with the game’s best two players of their generation sharing the significant limelight of football’s modern age.

The same tussle will again be in the forefront of the world’s collective mind as the two step out at 1800 CET on Saturday, but this time the extra prize for the winner will be the right to challenge Ribery for the individual crown. The timing couldn’t be better for one of football’s greatest ever players to state his case for another title. The only question is: which one?

Follow Kris Voakes on