Aleksandar Mitrovic has started four games this season. And Newcastle United have won them all.
That’s a convincing statistic.
That’s a very good problem to have the top scorer in the division and a player that is scoring goals when he’s coming from the bench or has to play.Rafa Benitez
But is Rafa Benitez entirely convinced by Mitrovic?
The striker started at Deepdale on Saturday because of a hamstring injury to Dwight Gayle, the club’s 11-goal leading scorer.
And Mitrovic – who had netted twice in Newcastle’s 6-0 EFL Cup win over Preston four days earlier – took his chance. In fact, he took two of them.
Mitrovic, for the second game in a row, was the last United player to leave the field. The Bill Shankly Stand at Deepdale, filled with 5,600 travelling fans, was bouncing, literally.
So too was Mitrovic as the club’s jubilant support loudly chanted “Mitro’s on fire”.
But will he start against Cardiff City on Saturday if Gayle is passed fit to play?
Long after Mitrovic had left the field, Benitez stepped out from the tunnel at Deepdale to speak to a huddle of journalists. United’s manager was asked whether Mitrovic had given him something to think about.
Benitez, always reluctant to speak about individuals, gave little away.
“Yes, but that’s a very good problem to have the top scorer in the division and a player that is scoring goals when he’s coming from the bench or has to play,” he said.
The biggest issue with Mitrovic since he joined the club last year has been his temperament.
Asked about his discipline, Benitez added: “It wasn’t easy. The two centre-backs were challenging all the time, but I think he did well.
“It was a difficult game for everyone, but he did well.”
That was high praise from Benitez, who again suggested he has no intention of pairing Mitrovic and Gayle.
Benitez feels that he would lose more in midfield than he would gain up front by playing a second striker.
Unquestionably, Mitrovic – who lacks the pace to get in behind defences, but is adept at playing with his back to goal – has given Benitez something to think about.
Benitez needs to know he can trust Mitrovic, not just to score goals, but also keep his discipline. In the last two games, the Serbia international has been dangerous with the ball AND disciplined without it.
However, pacy Gayle, better facing goal, remains Benitez’s first choice. Gayle’s flame is burning every bit as bright as that of Mitrovic.
Thanks to the pair of them, Newcastle are on fire.