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Opinion

Aleksandar Mitrovic recall decision pivotal to Newcastle United chances

4 months ago
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Fair to say that Aleksandar Mitrovic divided opinion in his time at Newcastle United.

The boyhood Newcastle fan getting his dream move to Tyneside in summer 2015 but a chaotic season ended in relegation.

A half decent nine Premier League goals in his first season in England from only 22 starts and 12 sub appearances.

However, despite dropping down a division, Rafa Benitez went for a different approach, bringing in Dwight Gayle to lead the charge back to the Premier League.

Aleksandar Mitrovic only starting 11 Championship matches in 2016/17, named on the bench 24 times, scoring four goals.

The next season back in the top tier it was no PL starts, named on the bench 10 times, scoring one goal, before a loan move in January 2018 which ended up with a permanent move that summer.

Rafa Benitez  preferring a mobile Dwight Gayle who could get around the pitch better and do more team work, instead of a less mobile Aleksandar Mitrovic who could hold the ball up and arguably is easily the better finisher.

Ahead of this season, Aleksandar Mitrovic was probably the first name on the team sheet for Fulham, 95 league starts and only named on the bench three times, scoring 49 goals in those league (Premier and Championship) games.

This season was looking the usual, starting seven of the first eight games he was available for, on the bench just once.

However, those seven starts saw six defeats and only the one win against West Brom, Aleksandar Mitrovic with only two goals, both against Leeds in a 4-3 defeat.

Scott Parker deciding things just weren’t working and so it is now six weeks since Mitro last started a Premier League match, Parker switching to a high energy, quick running and passing style, that the Serbian doesn’t exactly fit into. the striker left out of the last five starting elevens.

Also, midfielder Tom Cairney has been left out the last four PL matches and dropped to the bench. A very decent midfielder, however, he has no pace and relies on controlled careful passing sequences to try and eventually open up the opposition, once again, the complete opposite to what Scott Parker has wanted to do with his team since early November.

Fulham may have only picked up five points in the five matches since Aleksandar Mitrovic was left out BUT their performances have been far far better. Only very small margins preventing them picking up more points, from a very deliberate slow build up, instead, Fulham are now a very rapid attacking outfit that are capable of causing problems for the very best.

They won 2-1 at Leicester, having more shots on target (5 v 3) than the Foxes.

Against Everton they were very unlucky to lose 3-2, having had more possession (54% v 46%) and more shots (14 v 9).

In midweek, playing against a Brighton side that smashed Newcastle 3-0 at St James Park, they had decent possession (46% v 54%), and the same number of shots (9 v 9) and efforts on target (4 v 4).

Last weekend though I was particularly stunned to see how they played against Liverpool, totally without fear. They absolutely battered the scousers and should have been three or four up by half-time instead of just the one. Liverpool came back into it and dominated much of the second half but Fulham still were very dangerous. The eventual 1-1 scoreline a fair result maybe. Fulham had matched the champions in every department apart from possession, having 10 shots to 12, 5 v 6 on target, 6 v 8 corners.

Newcastle have been hammered by high energy, high pressing teams like Southampton, Brighton and Leeds. On what I have seen recently, I think Fulham have been very much looking similar.

However, salvation may be at hand for Steve Bruce and Newcastle United.

Like all managers, Scott Parker is said to be looking at how best to manage his resources in this very busy spell of matches.

I fear the worst if Parker puts out a team like he did against Liverpool last weekend and tells them to run and run at Newcastle, Bruce’s team and tactics could be literally overrun.

The good news though is that the Fulham boss is considering bringing Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic back for Saturday’s game. No disrespect to Mitro but I far more fancy out chances if up against a striker with so little pace and a team set up to play a very different way than recently, returning to a more slow, slow, careful build-up, rather than fast, fast, hassle and try and run them off their feet.

Whilst of course the choice of Newcastle team will be very important, I feel that on this occasion the Fulham one will be even more so, as that will dictate the kind of challenge NUFC will face in such an important match.

A win for the West London club would lift them to only five points behind Newcastle and with Steve Bruce’s team set to then face Man City, Liverpool and Leicester, the PL table could potentially look a lot less comfortable.

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