Rafa Benitez reveals his concern over Newcastle's Aleksandar Mitrovic
Rafa Benitez says Aleksandar Mitrovic MUST learn to curb his aggression.
The striker was substituted after scoring what turned out to be Newcastle United’s winning goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend.
Benitez withdraw Mitrovic at Molineux on Saturday because he feared he would be sent off after picking up an early booking.
Wolves manager Paul Lambert was furious with Mitrovic’s challenge on goalkeeper Carl Ikeme.
For his part, Benitez was unhappy with the way referee Craig Pawson handled the Championship game, which his team won 1-0 to return to the top of the division.
While United manager Benitez felt Mitrovic did not deserve to booked, he has acknowledged that the 22-year-old – who has scored six goals for Newcastle this season – must do more to control himself on the field.
Asked if he was concerned that Mitrovic was “wound up” too easily, Benitez said: “Yes, but I think we are talking about a young player – a foreign player – and a strong player that physically likes the contact.
“When you add all these things together, it’s clear that he still has to learn. He has to manage better the atmosphere, the pressure and the defenders.
“But at the same time you could see the first yellow card. That was incredible.
“How can you book someone for this foul that was not even a foul and forget about the foul that wasn’t given against them?
“When you put everything together, you have to be sure that he will improve, but at the same time someone has to realise that it is not every time he goes and challenges that it is a foul.
“The big centre-backs? He has to be allowed to fight with them.”
Benitez – who has 20-goal leading scorer Dwight Gayle available for the club’s visit to Carrow Road – has been working on Mitrovic’s temperament for almost a year.
The Serbia international has had one red card – he was dismissed on the final day of last season in the club’s 5-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur – since Benitez took charge in March last year.
Asked if he has seen a change in Mitrovic over the past 11 months, Benitez said: “I think so.
“He is improving, but it is difficult to have the control during the whole game when there’s one challenge, another challenge, and another challenge.
“The only thing that you can do is to explain to him, watch the images with him, and try to be in the top of his head every time to be sure he understands what he has to do.”
Meanwhile, Benitez believes that the Championship’s automatic promotion race is still “wide open”.
Newcastle are a point ahead of second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion, while Huddersfield Town are a further six points adrift in third place.
Benitez is reluctant to rule out a challenge from David Wagner’s side or Reading, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday below them.
“Because there are so many games to play, it’s wide open,” said Benitez.
“I don’t think you can say it’s Brighton and Newcastle.
“Every week there’s a team winning, another losing.
“Then it changes, and you think that team might have no chance. Then it changes again.
“That’s football. The only thing you do have to realise as a manager is that your message has to be the same. You have to keep going and keep going.
“It’s fine to win games now, then you can get to April and lose some games.”
Norwich manager Alex Neil believes his team can “match” Newcastle, who came from 3-1 down to win 4-3 at St James’s Park in September.
“Without doubt, we will be a match for them,” said Neil. “We beat them the last time they came here in the Premier League.
“We were 3-1 up at their place, and deservedly so.
“We know it is going to be tough, because they are a right good side, but so are we, and it is who plays well on the day.”