Aleksandar Mitrović is the prototypical number 9, an old-fashioned, physically imposing striker who is capable of holding the ball up with his back to goal and getting into goal-scoring areas. The 27-year-old left his native Serbia in 2013, joining Anderlecht for a then club-record fee of €5 million, with Mitrović spending two seasons in Belgium and finishing as the Jupiler Pro League’s top scorer with 20 goals in 2014/15, before earning a £13 million move to Newcastle.
Despite scoring 9 goals and 4 assists, Mitrović would fail to keep the Magpies up in the top-flight and struggled to bounce back from a challenging first season at St. James’ Park before eventually joining Fulham on loan on February 1, 2018 and scoring 12 goals to lead the Cottagers to promotion.
Fulham would make the loan spell permanent and pay an initial fee of £22 million for him, with Mitrović scoring 11 goals and 4 assists in 2018/19 but nevertheless unable to keep them up in a season that would see Claudio Ranieri, Slaviša Jokanović and Scott Parker take turns at the helm. The Serbian remained put following relegation and scored over 20 goals for the first time in his time in England, with his 26 goals seeing Fulham once again earn promotion via the play-offs stage.
However, 2020/21 would see Mitrović muster just 3 goals and 3 assists as Fulham headed back to the Championship, and it seemed as though he had joined the group of Dwight Gayle, Matej Vydra, and a litany of strikers who are too good for the Championship, and not good enough for the Premier League.
Having been benched on various occasions last season and struggling with injuries, Mitrović returned to the starting line-up under new manager Marco Silva and beginning the campaign with four goals in four matches, eventually leading Fulham to the Championship title and promotion with an English-record 43 goals in 44 games, whilst he has kicked off the 2022/23 Premier League campaign with 5 goals in 5 games, opening the season with a brace vs. Liverpool and scoring against Brentford, Arsenal and Brighton.
We have seen a different, a more complete, and a simply unstoppable Mitrović in the opening weeks of the campaign. As opposed to the traditional center forward we were accustomed to, we are seeing a more mobile striker who is capable of attacking space, projecting himself in an intelligent manner, receiving the ball in various areas, linking up with teammates and aggressively pressing the opposition’s build-up phase.
We can see in the above figures how Mitrović attacks the space in counter-attacking scenarios, with the first picture showing him exploit the space in behind the Liverpool defense and win a penalty, whilst the second one shows him running into space between Wolves’ center back and fullback.
The sequence against Wolves ended up with Mitrović failing to find the target, but his intelligence within the box and poacher’s movement is nevertheless clearly demonstrated here. We can see how Mitrović does well to ascertain the cross’s trajectory and move to arrive in the perfect area to finish, managing to anticipate where the Wolves defenders’ will be but nevertheless unable to make clean contact with the ball.
In this sequence, which results in a goal from Bobby Decordova-Reid, we can see how Mitrović does well to receive far away from the box, almost positioning himself as a left winger, before driving forward and finding his teammate with a superb pass into the box.
Even more so about linking up with teammates and providing a link in the play, we can see against Liverpool how Mitrović receives a long pass after having attacked the space and is capable of driving forward into the box where Virgil van Dijk elects to foul him.
In the above images, we can see how Mitrović’s aggressive pressing has put Arsenal’s build-up play under duress, with the Serbian marking William Saliba, complicating the pass of Bukayo Saka who is forced to find an alternative with Gabriel Magalhães with a riskier play, and Mitrović immediately presses the Brazilian defender, forcing him to cough up possession and ends up scoring.
Since ending a 13-year spell in the Premier League in 2013/14, Fulham have achieved promotion on three occasions and have been immediately relegated every single time. After drawing to Liverpool and Wolves, losing to Arsenal, and beating Brentford and Brighton, they currently find themselves seventh in the table, but they have yet to prove that they can shake off their reputation of a yo-yo club. Mitrović will be crucial as he looks to keep Fulham afloat in the top-flight and continue his stellar development at Craven Cottage.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Srdjan Stevanovic / Getty Images