Mature and Motivated: Aleksandar Mitrovic Ready to Fire for Fulham

Mature and Motivated: Aleksandar Mitrovic Ready to Fire for Fulham

Saturday, 18 August, 2018 - 07:15
Aleksandar Mitrovic looks to retain possession while under pressure from James Tomkins during Fulham’s 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at Craven Cottage. Photograph: Joe Toth/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock
London- Paul MacInnes
It was the equivalent of having a bucket of water chucked over your head on the first day at big school. Fulham took on Crystal Palace last Saturday in their return to the Premier League after four years away. They dominated possession, with an 88% pass completion rate, had 15 shots on goal ... and lost 2-0. “It’s going to be a long season”, said Aleksandar Mitrovic afterwards.

Against Palace, Mitrovic resumed a role critical to Fulham’s success last season. He is the focal point of the team, an attacking fulcrum with his back to goal, a player around whom talents such as Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney rotate. On Saturday he enjoyed a mixed outing. He won just 33% of his aerial challenges against the Palace’s central defenders, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins. He was dispossessed three times in the game and his pass completion was the lowest on the team (bar Sessegnon). At the same time he was the home side’s most potent attacking threat by far and drew three good saves from Wayne Hennessey.

Mitrovic has not set himself a goalscoring target for this season. “I never say I want to score 15 or 20 goals.” Instead, he says, he concentrates on making an effective contribution to the team, anticipating that if they do well the goals will follow. “Of course a striker wants to score as much as possible, it’s nice scoring goals, goals are like an addiction; when you score you want to keep doing more and more,” he adds. “But my target is to play and to help the team, to do my job as best as I can. I say that if the team play well and use me in the right way… the goals will come.”

Worth noting in those remarks is the phrase ‘use me in the right way’. Mitrovic joined Fulham this summer for a club record £22m after an outstanding loan spell in the Championship last season. The 23-year-old striker scored 12 goals in 17 appearances as Fulham went through the gears on the way to winning the play-offs. Watching Mitrovic thrive in this Fulham team would have come as a surprise to anyone who had seen the striker struggle during his time at Newcastle United where the Serbian forward cut a forlorn figure, standing stock still on the last man waiting for a cross that he could put his head to.

Is this the first time Mitrovic has been at a club willing to play to his strengths? “To be honest the answer is yes”, he says. “I had that time in Belgium with Anderlecht, but this is the first time in England that I feel really comfortable in the system and in the way we play.

“I think the manager and my team-mates ... they all know my strengths and try to use them in the best way that they can. They play high with a lot of crosses, a lot of players around me, always around the box. I feel really comfortable in this combination and I think this is the reason I had a really good time last season.”

There is no doubt that in his fellow Serb Slavisa Jokanovic, Mitrovic has a manager who understands his abilities and wants to make best use of them. But Jokanovic also appears to have helped the striker develop as a man. When he arrived in England at the age of 20, Mitrovic had a reputation as a bad boy. When he turned 21 he was averaging a booking every three and a half games. Last season, at club level, he earned just three yellow cards all year.

When listening to him speak, Mitrovic seems a mature individual; thoughtful when responding to questions and with a good command of English. When he says it is a long season ahead for Fulham, he means not only that the challenge will be hard but that there will be opportunity to improve.

“I’m always looking forward and I try to continue to push myself and to do the best that I can”, Mitrovic says. “I had an amazing four months last year in the Championship and of course I want to continue this in the Premier League. I know it’s going to be hard, it’s a better league with much more quality but I know I have abilities, I have quality and of course I want to show everybody that I can play in the best league in the world, that’s normal.

“I say again: I want to score goals, I want to play, but the first thing is that this team is winning games and making good results. If the team plays well, the goals will come for sure.”


(The Guardian)

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