Aleksandar Mitrovic at Fulham: Will it be third time lucky?

Fulham are close to signing Aleksandar Mitrovic on a permanent deal. Can the Serb replicate last season's Championship heroics in the Premier League?

Aleksandar Mitrovic played an integral role in Fulham‘s Premier League promotion last season. He scored 12 goals and created 15 chances in 15 Championship appearances. His performances were made more impressive by the fact he had only joined on a deadline day loan deal from Newcastle.

Considering he scored more goals in fewer games for the Cottagers than during two previous seasons on Tyneside, it makes sense they want him on a permanent basis. In today’s inflated market, the estimated £20million price tag isn’t expensive for a powerful forward who quickly asserted himself as Fulham’s focal point in attack. With just over two weeks before the transfer window closes, the deal is expected to happen. It begs the question: Will it be third time lucky for the Serbian international? 

How could it work?

Fulham play attractive football, free-flowing and out from the back. Typically aligned in a 4-3-3, the wingers provide support for a lone frontman while embracing their defensive responsibilities when out of possession. Wunderkind Ryan Sessegnon and captain Tom Cairney were Fulham’s two key players last term. Jean-Michael Seri’s arrival represents more quality to Craven Cottage.

Mitrovic’s value is his multidimensional talent. His work rate with and without the ball endear him to supporters wherever he goes. He can link up, play in the air and outmuscle defenders. He is a nuisance for opponents.

Why hasn’t it worked out at Newcastle?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one reason, especially as the Magpies were relegated in 2015/16. Mitrovic netted nine goals and created four assists that term, but discipline undermined his progress.

The 23-year-old is never at peace. If he isn’t battling opponents, he is at war with himself. He falls easily into tussles and arguments that distract from his primary mission: scoring. He was sent off against north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, struggled for consistent minutes during periods leading up to Christmas and the season’s end. Judging him on his goal return is slightly harsh. His rate is a better indicator.

During Toon’s Championship campaign, he played almost 1,000 minutes less than the season before. Unsurprisingly, he contributed less. There were times he was an unused substitute or didn’t feature in the matchday squad.

Gary Lineker’s nickname for him, “Missrovic“, reared its ugly head in Russia. Mitrovic’s World Cup exploits with Serbia divided opinion. He scored against Switzerland, should have had a penalty elsewhere and was his usual hard-working self. Crucially though, he missed goalscoring opportunities when his side needed him most. That doesn’t make for good reading.

Has he really improved in the last three years?

The answer is yes, Mitrovic has, although there will always be periods when he lacks the clinical edge in front of goal. Fulham believe they can rely on him in the long-run. Otherwise, they would not be interested in extending their relationship with the player.

With age and further first-team experience under his belt, he has matured. He’s no longer seen as the talented hothead who defenders can easily manipulate. Instead, he is a lovable beast who strikes fear in the enemy’s eye.

Newcastle hoped he would be their Romelu Lukaku. Both were Premier League signings at young ages. Mitrovic is taking longer to settle. Happily, he appears hungrier than ever to silence critics.

What happens if the deal fails?

It’s still a possibility, unlikely given recent updates, but anything can happen in football. Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez knows he must sell before buying players. Time is of the essence. They’ve been linked to West Brom’s Salomon Rondon, a similar type with more experience and an affordable release clause.

If Mitrovic remains at Newcastle, he must return from his holiday a man inspired to work hard and earn a starting spot. Integrating into Rafa’s system should not be too difficult. He could partner Ayoze Perez. Both players are talented but lack the consistency against top opposition. As a duo, they could break through.

For Fulham, it would mean looking elsewhere. Perhaps their gaze will fall on Rondon.

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