Aleksandar Mitrovic is a player that divides opinion. If you are asking a Championship, Fulham or Serbia fan then they would tell you he is a class striker that combines goals with fantastic hold up play. However, ask a follower of the Premier League, and it is likely that they would give you a completely different answer. Statements like “the Championship is his level” or “he can’t do it in the Premier League” are banded around by fans and pundits alike. But is this true? No! And here is why…
Firstly, his record in the Championship is nothing short of outstanding. In 99 games, Mitro has 62 goals and 14 assists. This averages out at a goal contribution every 0.77 games, which is very impressive. But it gets better, if you look at just his goals for Fulham at this level, he has 58 goals and 8 assists in 74 games. This equates to a goal contribution every 0.89 games!
He has taken that form to an astonishing level this season with many pundits believing that this could be a record breaking one for Mitrovic. Brentford’s Ivan Toney set the record of most goals in a Championship season in the last campaign with 31. Before that Glenn Murray held it with 30 and they are the only players since the competition was rebranded to the Championship in 2004/05 who have made it to the 30 mark. The Serbian has 20 in 17 games this season with him needing just 12 more in 29 games. This should be easy for a man that in my eyes is the best ever Championship striker. He does not belong at this level because whenever he is in this league (mainly through loyalty to the club) he is so emphatically better than the division, that you simply cannot say he belongs somewhere in between the divisions either. He clearly belongs in the top flight and the only question unanswered is how high can he go, as he hasn’t had enough opportunities to determine this in the Premier League.
Mitrovic’s form for Serbia paints a similar picture to his form in the Championship. He boasts an impressive 44 goals in 69 games for his country and is their all-time leading scorer. Bearing in mind that Harry Kane scored 7 goals against Albania and San Marino in the past few days, with 4 against the latter who are the lowest ranked country in the world right now, it really does put into perspective how good Mitro’s record for Serbia is. Kane now sits on 48 goals from 67 games which give or take is pretty similar, with Mitro having the better record before this international break. When you factor in just how dominant England are especially in qualifiers, the last two matches being good examples with 5-0/10-0 wins, compared to Serbia who qualified but always have to fight hard for anything they achieve, it speaks volumes of just how clinical Mitro is on the international stage.
After missing the decisive penalty against Scotland in the Euro 2020 playoffs, this November his redemption was complete. After being subbed on at half time in Serbia’s final group game against Portugal, Mitrovic nodded in a 90th minute winner to automatically send his nation to the World Cup. He also finished the joint 2nd top scorer in European World Cup qualifying alongside Robert Lewandowski and Eran Zahavi, behind Memphis Depay and Harry Kane who both got 12. He scored more goals than the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Kylian Mbappe which shows how good he really is when you play to his strengths. Something Serbia have got right for years.
And if those stats weren’t impressive enough, here’s another. Mitro has scored 41 goals in his last 51 caps!
Now it’s time to look at his form in the Premier League and why it isn’t as bad as people make out. I am only going to look at his performances for Fulham as the last time he played a full Premier League season for Newcastle he was just 21 years old, he’s now 27. His first season in the Premier League after his permanent move to the club, was fairly successful from a personal point of view. Obviously Fulham being relegated paints a different picture but he scored 11 goals and made three assists in 37 games which is a goal contribution every 0.38 games. To put that into perspective, in Fulham’s 15 seasons in the Premier League – Andy Cole and Dimitar Berbatov are the only other players to score double figures in their first Premier League season for the club, they weren’t too shabby were they? Mitro achieved that amidst the chaos of a disastrous campaign with 3 managers and a disjointed squad, which poses the question – what could he have done in an established environment?
The reason the 27-year-old didn’t get even more goals that season was the stupid appointment of Claudio Ranieri. I am not having a go at the “Tinkerman” himself, but his style of play did not suit us one bit. His system relied on us sitting deep, soaking up pressure and hitting teams on the break which did not suit our squad at all. You know you have the wrong manager when Mitro is being instructed to run into the channels. That season under Slavisa Jokanovic, he averaged a goal or assist every 0.5 games, under Ranieri every 0.38 and under Scott Parker every 0.22. This shows us that Slav got the best out of the forward, Ranieri’s style hindered his goal scoring and by the time Parker took over his confidence was shot.
Last season was definitely Mitrovic’s worst season in a Fulham shirt, there’s no denying that. Under the leadership of Scott Parker, he scored three goals and got three assists in 27 games. That’s the same number of contributions that he produced when Parker was the interim head coach. After his poor start to the season, his game time decreased massively. He was let down by poor man management and instead of letting him play through his tough start, he was demoted to a bench warmer, starting just 13 games with a further 14 cameos as a sub. As well as this we really struggled to create chances last season. We didn’t have anyone who liked to cross the ball and he was left feeding off scraps as an isolated figure in a very defence minded setup. This is down to a number of things. The injury early in the season to Tom Cairney, Ruben Loftus-Cheek being awful in the final third and a system that didn’t promote much attacking. The fact that we only scored 9 goals at home suggests that the decision to drop Mitro so early was highly unjustified and the wrong decision. Yet despite this, Mitro still finished with the second most goal contributions from the 14th most minutes played for Fulham in 2021/22. That is bonkers!
He also only started 6 games once all the new players had been signed, were fit, and playing – so more than half of those starts came without the likes of Andersen, Tosin, Lookman etc. Is it Mitro’s fault that he hasn’t had the right platform or manager at the top level to show what he’s really capable of? Ever since Slavisa was sacked, no manager has been able to get the best out of him due to style of play or a lack of chances created. His form for Serbia alone shows that he can cut it at Premier League level, scoring against Premier League defenders and keepers regularly. If we go up under Marco Silva, I think we will see Mitro thrive. His style of play really suits him and his form since he has taken over has been incredible. I expect that to continue into the Premier League if we get there.
It feels like we are witnessing something special from our talisman this season and it’s about time he was given the top level recognition that he deserves.