Rafa Benitez has made it well known where he stands on Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Only starting him in two of the final seven matches that decided Newcastle’s relegation in 2015/16, then a measly 11 starts from 46 Championship matches last season.
The summer saw Rafa desperate to trade Mitrovic in and bring a striker in of his choice, with even the player admitting he would be moving on if a club came in with an offer that was acceptable to both Newcastle United and the striker himself.
As we know, moves in and out didn’t happen, though Rafa did bring in a bargain £5m buy in Joselu and instantly placed him ahead of Mitrovic. The Spaniard coming on as a sub at Huddersfield, then starting in the 3-0 win over West Ham.
Despite this latest demotion, Mitro scored a cracking goal when starting against Forest in the League Cup, then stylishly rounded Joe Hart to score the third against the Hammers when coming off the bench.
It would be a brave man to predict what will happen with Newcastle’s three strikers this season, as Dwight Gayle is the one under most early pressure, looking out of sorts in his two starts and Rafa leaving him out of his squad that faced West Ham, stating that he had no physical injury but was once again having ‘confidence’ issues.
Mitrovic certainly doesn’t look to have any confidence issues and scored his sixth goal in six Would Cup qualifiers as Serbia overcame Moldova to go top of the group.
Ahead of facing the Republic of Ireland tonight, Slavoljub Muslin – Serbia’s Manager, has been talking about his star striker.
He says that if Rafa wants to get the best out of Mitrovic, he needs to show ‘confidence’ in him and play a system that suits the forward better.
Serbia are top scorers in Group D with 16 goals in seven matches so far, six more than the next highest, although they have conceded seven.
They play an open style of football that it is difficult to see Rafa Benitez switching to, from his rigid 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1, depending on how you look at it and sometimes varying on the opposition.
Muslin says that playing ‘with three attackers’ suits Mitrovic better and you only have to look at the goals he has scored for his country, to see that the striker thrives on that style.
Rafa usually has a striker playing a quite isolated role up front that requires a lot of selfless running for the team, then often relying on fast breaks to break the opposition down. This isn’t something that will ever play to Mitrovic’ strengths.
Depending on how the season pans out, Rafa may end up faced with a choice. Keeping his usual system/formation and hoping the former Anderlecht striker will improve within it, or accepting that if he is playing the Serbian, the United boss needs to adapt to get more out of the striker and his team overall.
Slavoljub Muslin quoted by The Mail:
“Maybe the system we play with three attackers suits him (Mitrovic) better.
“Perhaps the coach in Newcastle doesn’t have as much confidence in him as I do.
“He is our first choice centre forward.
“Perhaps he feels more comfortable playing for the national team than he does for his own club.”