He was always a striker with an eye for goals — be it in Belgium or England. But, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s temperament has always been his Achilles heel. However, it looks like something has changed for Mitro as he is firing on all cylinders for Fulham these days. Fox Sports Asia charts the journey of Fulham’s favourite Serbian and explores what the Cottagers can expect from their big centre-forward this season.
Not many fans at the Craven Cottage for Fulham’s clash with Watford on Saturday had taken their seats properly yet when, within 80 seconds from the kickoff, Andre Gray put the visitors in front.
It was an expected scenario for the newly promoted Fulham who have won just one of their five games on their return to the Premier League and look at a very long and testing campaign back in the big league.
But one of the positives that Slavisa Jokanovic and the Fulham fans can take home from the early exchanges is the purple patch that their striker Mitrovic is on.
With the Hornets’ defence proving difficult to break down, Jokanovic’s side were staring down at yet another defeat. But the big Serb had other ideas. Up stepped Mitrovic. From a Luciano Vietto cross, he provided the most delicate of touches as Fulham drew level. And that is how it ended. Fulham now have five points from their first six league matches.
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On a personal note, Mitrovic is now level with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard on five goals in the Premier League goalscorers’ chart. With the Fulham squad lacking in departments more than one, it is fair to say it will be Mitrovic’s goal that will decide their fate this season.
The Serbian’s prowess has never been in doubt. But his temperament is something that has always held him back. Even during his breakthrough stint in Europe with Anderlecht in Belgian Pro League during 2013-14. Mitrovic scored for fun. But again, his disciplinary record hampered his reputation. And it’s something he has carried with him to England signing for Newcastle United in 2015.
In the Premier League, the goals were a little hard to come by. But Newcastle and owner Mike Ashley knew they’ve got a hitman in their ranks. Therefore, the very frequent coming together with opposition players was overlooked to some extent. But his very first month with the North East club will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Mitro, as he’s known among his fans, was booked just 22 seconds into his Newcastle debut for a foul on Southampton fullback Matt Targett. Things got even worse in the following week. Against Arsenal in the next game, Mitrovic was sent off in the 15th minute for a rash tackle on Francis Coquelin. But his ‘best’ was yet to come.
17 goals in his last 23 games for Serbia.
16 goals in his last 24 games for Fulham.
33 in 47. That’s prolific. pic.twitter.com/PUxZ1tvTCV
— Serbian Football (@SerbianFooty) September 11, 2018
Mitrovic is almost always box office. And it was fully on display on the final matchday of the 2015-16 season. Against Tottenham Hotspur in a 5-1 thumping, Mitrovic scored a goal, got an assist and was also sent off for a foul on Kyle Walker. After all of these, Mitrovic had a 2016-17 season to forget.
The Serbian was left disappointed, with a feeling of having let down everyone who believed in him. But as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Same went for Mitrovic. And that silver lining was a loan move to Fulham.
After that brilliant half-season for the Cottagers, Fulham knew they had to sign the big Serbian who was so instrumental in them gaining back promotion. For a fee of £22 million, Jokanovic secured the man who also scored at the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Serbia in the summer.
Mitrovic himself says, he now feels at home in Fulham. He feels the love of the fans and the backing of his teammates and the coach. And that has got his confidence going. And the results are there for everyone to see.
Already the joint top scorer in the Premier League, big things are expected of him this season. Especially in a team who are primed for a relegation scrap. Fulham fans and Jokanovic will be pinning all of their hopes of staying up mostly on one man. The man, who has been nothing short of a goal-scoring machine for them so far.
And if the start of the season is anything to go by, Fulham will be getting their money worth on Mitrovic and that’s very likely to be the case come May.