Aleksandar Mitrovic is back. Having missed the final two games before the World Cup enforced pause to the Premier League, and Marco Silva’s suggestion that the Serbian was a doubt for the return to domestic competition, Fulham fans were intrigued to see how he would fare at Selhurst Park.
What occurred was a complete performance from the clubs top scorer, who took his tally to 10 for the season, but not before laying on two assists to help his team seize control of the contest. It was the ideal festive treat for the travelling Fulham Faithful.
The worry prior to the World Cup was that Mitrovic’s participation could hinder his contributions to The Whites so far successful season, having managed to play through the foot injury picked up in the last international break before sitting out the Manchester club double header entirely. Having played all three of his nations fixtures in Qatar the feeling was positive, until Silva’s pre-match presser on Thursday.
When the line up was released there was collective sigh of relief, and that relief gave way to jubilation over the course of the 90mins in which Mitro consistently got the better of the opposition. For this season to continue in the positive manner it started, the hitman will be needed, and it appears he is more than ready to once again answer the clubs call.
Mitrovic was dominant, and while the opposition being reduced to nine men was certainly advantageous, Fulham were well in control prior to the first dismissal. Mitrovic managed four attempts on target, connecting with cross after cross, winning four of six aerial duels.
Post-match, the return of Mitrovic shared the limelight with the continuation of an ever-present. Tim Ream started all 46 Championship games last season, and has continued that trend in the Premier League. He’s been so effective, that the Indian summer of his career is set to continue by The Thames, as both Captain America and the club confirmed a further years’ extension to his contract, keeping him at the club until the summer of 2024.
Before the season started, many a fan expected Ream to play a supporting role, in what would be his send-off season. Instead, he is captaining a side that is trending ahead of the clubs best ever Premier League points tally. Having regained the favour of his international manager and giving a good account of himself in Qatar, Ream is enjoying the best period of his career since joining in 2015.
He was up to the task on the rare occasions he was called upon, impressively halting the tricky Michael Olise during a threatening counter-attack. Indeed for all of Palace’s talented dribblers, Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Olise, not one of them was able to get past Ream on this day. His goal was just reward for his efforts, even though Ream, himself values the his work in his own penalty area more highly.
Partnering him has become the job of Issa Diop, who again performed well. Indeed there were good performances across the pitch, from what looks to be Silva’s strongest possible XI. When you consider that the same XI does not currently include the exciting Manor Solomon or last seasons chief provider, Harry Wilson, there is plenty to be positive about as we head into the new year.
A fit and firing Mitrovic at one end, and the dependable evergreen Ream at the other, makes 2023 an exciting prospect for The Cottagers.