Why Salomon Rondon has silenced critics of Aleksandar Mitrovic's sale at Newcastle '“ for now

For the first time in a long time, Newcastle United fans aren't talking so much about Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 12:24 pm
Updated Friday, 21st December 2018, 12:28 pm
Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The reason? Salomon Rondon.

Mitrovic divided opinion on Tyneside.

There were many fans who were sorry to see him leave Newcastle this summer, when he joined Fulham following a successful half-season loan. Many other supporters weren’t so sorry.

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But the club has now seemingly moved on from the debate about Mitrovic, who was deemed surplus to requirements last season.

Fulham are propping up the Premier League ahead of Saturday’s game against Newcastle at St James’s Park, yet Mitrovic, statistically, is having a good season.

Mitrovic – whose goals took Fulham out of the Championship – has proved he can play at the top level.

The 24-year-old, a boyhood United fan, has scored seven goals so far this season, and only nine players have netted more times than him.

Incoming Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri said: “For me, Mitrovic’s one of the best strikers in Europe.

“When I say in Europe, I say all the world. He’s only 24 years old. He’s a fantastic player, and it’s important to give the ball to him.”

Fulham’s problem has been in defence, with the team having let in 42 goals so far.

Rondon – who scored United’s winner against Huddersfield Town last weekend – has some catching up to do with Mitrovic. The 29-year-old, powerful and mobile, has scored five goals in all competitions – four in the Premier League – despite missing a month of the season with an injury.

And the on-loan striker’s form has quietened talk about Mitrovic, and Benitez’s decision to sell him.

Benitez quickly made up his mind about Mitrovic after taking over at St James’s Park and used him sparingly in his first full season at Newcastle, when the club won the Championship.

Mitrovic’s best asset, in Benitez’s view, was his physicality. Benitez wanted more mobility from his main striker, and one thing Mitrovic did lack was pace and movement. He also wanted a tactically-astute player he could trust to keep his discipline.

That player wasn’t Mitrovic, who had had enough this time last year.

Mitrovic rarely stopped in the mixed zone to speak to journalists – he often said he was “too tired” – but he made a point of coming over to talk after playing 19 minutes of the club’s 4-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in November last year.

“I’m patient, but we will see,” said Mitrovic, who had seemingly chosen to break his silence with the January transfer window in mind.

“My patience is almost to the end, so we will see. I want to play. I want to be on the pitch. I’m patient, but we will see. I hope I will stay here, but we will see what happens. I will always be a Newcastle United fan.”

Mitrovic was loaned to Fulham in January after a proposed move to former club Anderlecht broke down at the 11th hour.

United were struggling at the time, and Mitrovic’s goals for Fulham saw Benitez repeatedly questioned about his decision to loan him out.

Benitez would pointedly refer to Daryl Murphy’s goal record, which had been better than Mitrovic’s in the 2016-17 season, in reply.

Mitrovic scored 12 goals for Fulham, then managed by his Serbian countryman Slavisa Jokanovic, whose team was set up to deliver balls into the box for him.

This summer Benitez and Mitrovic parted on good terms.

“I didn’t have any problem with him,” said Benitez. “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’.”

Pointedly, Benitez added: “He had chances for us. 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.”

Mitrovic, clearly, will have something to prove on his first appearance at St James’s Park as an opposition player.

Jamaal Lascelles, Newcastle’s captain, said this week that Mitrovic can be a “nightmare” for defenders.

Lascelles, likely to be marking his former team-mate, will be in for a bruising afternoon.

Fulham may be bottom of the league, but they can score goals.

And it’s up to Lascelles to make sure that United fans aren’t talking about Mitrovic after the final whistle.