The Star
Can Mitrovic replicate his scoring feats in Premier League?
2 days ago
The past two seasons could hardly have been more different for Aleksandar Mitrovic.

In 2020-21 the Fulham and Serbia striker endured miserable lows for club and country.

In the Premier League he started only a third of the Cottagers’ games as they were relegated, while it was his missed penalty in a shootout against Scotland that meant his country failed to qualify for the delayed Euro 2020.

But the past 12 months have offered redemption for the 27-year-old. He broke the Championship scoring record, registering 43 goals in 44 games, helping Fulham to promotion for the third time since joining in January 2018.

And it was his added-time header in November against Portugal — his eighth of the qualifying campaign — which sent Serbia to this winter’s World Cup and left a disconsolate Cristiano Ronaldo needing a play-off to reach Qatar.

Yet despite a remarkable 12 months, questions remain about Mitrovic’s ability to cut it at the highest level.

Has he really flopped in the Premier League?

Mitrovic’s three full Premier League seasons — two with Fulham and one with Newcastle — have all ended in relegation.

He scored nine times in 34 league appearances in 2015-16 as a 20-year-old at St James’ Park following a £13m move from Anderlecht.

His first top-flight season with Fulham began with Slavisa Jokanovic in charge and ended with Scott Parker, via a joyless spell under Claudio Ranieri.

Mitrovic was a key part of the team that season, starting 37 league games and scoring 11 goals. That is one goal fewer than Romelu Lukaku at Manchester United, Roberto Firmino at Liverpool and Son Heung-min at Tottenham, and one more than the likes of United’s Marcus Rashford and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. So that could hardly be considered a total failure.

After his goals again helped Fulham to promotion in 2019-20, his last Premier League campaign was a miserable one, starting only 13 times and scoring three goals as he fell out of favour under Parker.

“Although he hasn’t really done it for us in Premier League, he doesn’t take any blame for poor seasons there,” Fulham’s record scorer Gordon Davies explains.

“Players around him, tactics and team play weren’t good enough to see the best of Mitrovic. But now with Marco Silva, we have more attacking players with better quality. So I’m hoping for a much-improved Fulham this coming season. Then, I’m sure we’ll also see a much-improved Mitrovic at Premier League level.

“In the Premier League he has never been in a team from the top 10. He was always fighting relegation. That means two things: that you don’t score many goals, and that you are always defending.

“Parker didn’t play a very expansive game and Aleksandar sometimes found himself up front by himself, with two or three markers. You could put three defenders around Cristiano Ronaldo and he would not score that many. That was exactly the same with Mitrovic.

“Under Parker you could see he wasn’t enjoying it. Under Silva, you can tell the difference by the smile on his face.”

Mitrovic’s style has also evolved dramatically under Silva. Previously more of a target man, now he drops deeper to link play, in a similar manner to Harry Kane at Tottenham.

That freedom was given to him by Silva and it is that relationship that ensured Mitrovic stayed at Craven Cottage, having been close to leaving last summer as his relationship with former boss Parker deteriorated.

“When he came, he stayed in the middle of the park and was slow to get wide,” added Davies. “Now he has confidence, looks fitter, has lost weight and is an all-round athlete. He puts defenders under pressure and I love his attitude. If he scores 43 goals he wants 44.”