Rafa Benitez revisits his Aleksandar Mitrovic decision '“ and has a message for the ex-Newcastle striker
Five games, six goals. That's Aleksandar Mitrovic's record so far this season.
The striker, sold to Fulham this summer by Newcastle United, has netted four times in the Premier League to be joint leading scorer.
Mitrovic also scored twice for Serbia during the international break.
Have we moved on from the debate over Rafa Benitez’s decision to move on Mitrovic?
Mitrovic’s goals have brought Benitez’s decision to sell him back into focus, though Salomon Rondon, signed on loan from West Bromwich Albion, has already made an impact in black and white.
United’s manager will choose between Rondon and Joselu for tomorrow’s home game against Arsenal.
Benitez didn’t believe Mitrovic had the mobility or pace to play in a counter-attacking team – and Mitrovic was loaned to Fulham in January.
Mitrovic’s 15 goals helped the club win promotion to the Premier League.
This summer, Mitrovic’s move to Craven Cottage was made permanent – and Benitez “wish him all the best”.
Asked about Mitrovic’s free-scoring start to the season for Fulham and Serbia, Benitez said: “The first thing that I would say is that I wish him all the best.
“I didn’t have any problem with him. He was a professional. He’s a nice lad, and that’s it.
“He was very clear (and said) ‘the way that I play, maybe, is not the way we have to play’. In another environment, in another division (last season), and now with confidence, fine, he’s doing well. He’s in another team and it’s totally different.”
Benitez felt he gave Mitrovic enough chances in the club’s Championship-winning season, when he scored four league goals.
Mitrovic, signed from Anderlecht in 2015, was outscored by veteran striker Daryl Murphy, despite making 10 more appearances
“He had chances for us,” said Benitez. “He was playing more than Murphy, and Murphy was similar. You see the stats, but I will not waste too much time on that. I wish him well.
“If we are safe, they can be safe, no problem.
“For us, he was not the kind of player we were looking for. That’s it.”
Mitrovic left on good terms, having understood why he didn’t fit into Benitez’s system.
“Benitez plays defence and counter-attack,” said the 23-year-old. “I tried to give my best, but it wasn’t me.
“I was just running and getting in the team shape. He told me what he wanted, and I tried, but I am 90 kilos, and if I run so much defensively I have no power left when I’m in the box. He knew I couldn’t play in that style, and I felt it too.
“Defensively, he was one of the best, and you can see that when they play, but personally I like to be close to the opponents’ box. I need crosses and service.”
Mitrovic added: “Benitez is a great person, and in the end I shook his hand.”
Meanwhile, Joselu has been put on standby to start against Arsenal – as Benitez is concerned Rondon will be fatigued.
The striker and defender DeAndre Yedlin were late back, having played in internationals in the USA on Tuesday night.
Rondon scored two goals for Venezuela against Panama in Miami on Tuesday night, while Yedlin came off the bench for the USA against Mexico in Nashville.
And Joselu – who scored in the club’s two previous home games against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea– could be recalled to the starting XI.
The 28-year-old scored four goals – all of them at St James’s Park – last season after joining from Stoke City in a £5million deal.
Joselu spoke to the Gazette about the pressures of leading the line for Newcastle in pre-season.
“When you play as a striker, the pressure is different at all the clubs,” said Joselu. “All the people focus on you, because you have to score every game.
“It’s difficult, because this league is so hard. But we have a very good team and very good team-mates.
“I think last season we had a good season and all the strikers in this team scored goals.”
On the criticism that was directed at him, Joselu added: “If I play seven games in a row and don’t score and we lose every game and I’m only thinking about these games, it’s not good for me and it’s not good for the team.
“We know sometimes we have a good moment and sad moments. It’s difficult to play as a striker, but I think positive, always.”