Rafa Benitez has been asked about Aleksandar Mitrovic.
In Dwight Gayle’s absence Mitrovic made a late substitute appearance against Crystal Palace but was then yet again totally missing from the squad at Burnley.
Asked whether Mitrovic was ‘still in favour’, the United boss answered ‘Yes – you know that the competition for the strikers has to be until the end…Mitrovic is fine…and is another option’.
These comments have been taken by some media to mean that the Serbian forward is in serious contention to start against Bournemouth.
Whilst Joselu has been struggling along in recent games, I think that clearly Dwight Gayle is the only serious possibility to replace the Spaniard up front.
That is of course barring injuries, or if Rafa goes for a completely different formation with Ayoze Perez as the player in the most forward role.
Of course it is meaningless what the rest of us think, it is only Rafa’s opinion that counts, and he has made it crystal clear what he thinks of Mitrovic.
When he is asked about the former Anderlecht striker, what else is he going to say?
He’s not going to say he isn’t good enough or that he has no chance of getting a start, no matter what he might think. The United boss is always going to say the right things in public and as it happens I do think that he likes Mitro, as a person/character that is, not as a striker.
In his actions Rafa Benitez has told us everything.
When he arrived at Newcastle in March 2016 he started Mitrovic in his first two matches (Leicester and Sunderland).
Since then he has only started him in one competitive Premier League match, at Southampton on the relegation run-in that season. He did get a start v Spurs but that was a dead rubber, with NUFC already relegated.
This season it has been more of the same, most Premier League games not even in the squad and so far getting only 30 minutes on the pitch in the top tier.
In the last home game, despite Newcastle being desperate for a goal against Palace, Rafa Benitez brought Merino on first, then Diame. It was only with 12 minutes to go that the manager finally felt he had to put Mitro on, as he had no other strikers on the bench.
Not saying whether this was right or wrong from Rafa, it is just a statement of fact.
It is quite obvious that Rafa Benitez doesn’t see Mitrovic as having anything to offer in the Premier League and I guess a lack of pace and stamina are the key/main reasons. Rafa needs his lone striker to run and run all day as just a starting point, Mitro is just not going to do that.
Even in the Championship last season, Mitrovic only had 11 starts and these were almost exclusively due to injury, in fact 33 year old Daryl Murphy was preferred at times.
Fans and media questioning his absence and daydreaming about Mitrovic storming back into the team are wasting their breath/energy.
It is either Joselu battling on, or if Gayle can get on top of his injury/fitness/confidence issues then he will be back in the team. Only if one of them is injured, has Mitrovic even got a chance of getting onto the bench.
Two things are imperative in January…
Rafa Benitez has to backed, whoever is the owner, in bringing in a new first choice striker.
Then on top of that, Mitrovic has to find a new club, even if only on loan initially, because his career is guaranteed to be going nowhere whilst Rafa Benitez continues to manage Newcastle United.
Rafa Benitez talking to Sky Sports:
“(Mitrovic still in favour?) “Yes – you know that the competition for the strikers has to be until the end.
“We now have Gayle, Joselu, Ayoze – an offensive player, and Mitrovic is fine.
“He (Mitrovic) played minutes in the last (Crystal Palace) game and is another option.
“We know our strengths and weaknesses and we have to improve on everything.
“But I am still happy with the workrate of the players and the way that they are approaching every game.
“Sometimes it is that little bit of luck that makes the difference.
“It was a game we were controlling and one that if you score one goal you could win – in this case we lost.”