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Opinion

Rafa Benitez accepts need to be pragmatic with Aleksandar Mitrovic

3 years ago
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Aleksandar Mitrovic admits he still doesn’t know whether he will be still at St James Park when we reach September.

The striker says ‘at the moment I’m here and my head is here’ but that ‘I couldn’t say if I will stay’.

There is no change really, earlier in the summer Mitrovic revealed that he was likely to leave Newcastle this summer, if there was a deal offered that was good for both him and NUFC.

Rightly or wrongly, Rafa Benitez clearly doesn’t see the Serbian international as his idea of a Premier League striker, having selected Mitrovic in his first two games when arriving n March 2016, but then only one other start in the next seven matches that decided Newcastle’s relegation fate.

This was reinforced when last summer many Newcastle fans were expecting Mitro to take the Championship by storm, only for Rafa to only give United’s No.45 eleven league starts out of forty six, and to be fair, when the forward got his chance in the second tier he rarely looked like proving the manager wrong. Only scoring four goals in 2,114 minutes of Championship football.

The situation is clear for most/all of us I think, Rafa Benitez is desperate for another quality striker to compete and potentially play alongside Dwight Gayle. If that happens then Mitrovic will leave, either sold or on a loan. Alternatively, if a club came in with a half decent bid (£8m+?) for Mitrovic, Rafa would surely sell and be confident of at the very least bringing in a loan player that he would be willing to have more faith in.

In the meantime though, Rafa Benitez has taken the pragmatic approach, and with only nine days to go until the season kicks off – the reality is that very likely there will be only Gayle and Mitrovic as the choice of strikers to face Tottenham.

With this in mind, Rafa has actually given Mitrovic more minutes (225) in pre-season than Dwight Gayle (180) has had so far (see HERE how many minutes every NUFC player has had in the friendlies). Dwight Gayle surprisingly sat out all of the match against a Wolfsburg reserve side on Wednesday, Mitrovic playing the first half and then Rafa experimenting with first Diame and then Perez as the sole striker – no doubt trying to prepare against all contingencies (injuries).

Hopefully there are no injury issues with Gayle and it was only Rafa using that last game to experiment, as an injury to Gayle would be crippling.

Though having said that, with recurring hamstring problems in recent years, it would be foolish to expect the Newcastle number nine to be available all season. In the Championship he only managed to start 26 of 46 games.

So a bit like the rest of the squad, Rafa is doing the best with what he has got, trying to put the team/squad in the best place for dealing with setbacks, especially when it comes to injuries to key players.

He has given everybody a try and will surely know by now the pecking order of who he thinks he can rely on, though at the same time desperate for better quality still arriving in these coming days and weeks.

If Gayle, Shelvey, Ritchie, Clark and one or two others can stay free of injury, Newcastle have a decent core of half a dozen or so Premier League standard players, but the margins are very small and two or three injuries in the wrong places would leave the team looking vulnerable. As Rafa has made clear, Newcastle have certainly got the (too much) quantity in the squad – now there is the pressing need though to add more quality.

Aleksandar Mitrovic talking to the Shields Gazette:

“We will see what happens, but at the moment, I am focused on trying to do the best I can every training session and every game, to do the best with every chance I get.

“This is healthy competition – at the moment Dwight (Gayle) and I are here and we are trying to do our best every game.

“We will see what happens at the end of the transfer window.

“It (Wolfsburg) was a tough game, we tried to do the best we could.

“Physically it was hard because it was hot and it was hard to run, but in the end, we did everything to win the game.

“We have one more game before the season and we will try to win that game and go positively towards Tottenham.

“I scored a goal and had one or two more chances, it was really hard to play but in the end I scored a goal and the most important thing was that we won the game, after a bad result against Mainz – we have that winning feeling again.”

Mitrovic talking to the Chronicle:

“I couldn’t say if I will stay or not because you never know in football with transfers and the window is still open – we will see, at the moment I’m here and my head is here.”

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