Rafa Benitez reacts to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s Fulham form – and reveals why he let him leave Newcastle

Aleksandar Mitrovic is a big hit on loan at Fulham. Picture by Frank Reid
Aleksandar Mitrovic is a big hit on loan at Fulham. Picture by Frank Reid

Rafa Benitez says he has no regrets about loaning Aleksandar Mitrovic to Fulham.

The Newcastle United striker has scored five goals in his last four games for the high-flying Championship club.

Serbian striker Mitrovic was allowed to leave St James’s Park after the relegation-threatened Magpies signed Islam Slimani on loan from Leicester City.

Slimani, however, has been sidelined with a thigh problem since arriving on Tyneside, and the 29-year-old is not available for this afternoon’s Premier League home game against Southampton.

Mitrovic had been on the fringes at Newcastle before he was loaned out by Benitez, who also used him sparingly in the Championship last season.

Asked about Mitrovic’s Fulham form surge, Benitez said: “Mitrovic is scoring goals in the Championship, and I’m really pleased for him.

“As I’ve said before, I hope he scores 20 goals. That will be much better for him and for us.”

Mitrovic, signed from Anderlecht in the summer of 2015, found his opportunities limited last season because of the form of Dwight Gayle, who scored 23 league goals.

“We were the best team in the Championship, so I don’t want people to have the wrong idea,” said Benitez.

“We were the best in the Championship, we scored more goals than anyone – 85, like Fulham and Norwich – we conceded less goals than anyone – 40 like Brighton – so we were the best team.

“We won the title, we had more shots on target than anyone, so we were attacking – we were second for crosses, so we were attacking and crossing.

“Our style of football was very offensive, and we have one key player, and that was Dwight Gayle.

“He scored 23 goals, even when he was two months without playing. Even Daryl Murphy scored six goals.

“When we talk about that, we cannot forget that we were the best team in the Championship, an attacking team, creating a lot of chances, with balance in terms of attack and defence – that’s the reason why we won.”

Mitrovic, having only made a handful of appearances in the first half of the season, wanted to leave on loan to get games ahead of the summer’s World Cup finals, having been behind Joselu and Gayle in the pecking order.

And Benitez feels it was the right move for Mitrovic – and Newcastle.

“I have to make my decisions, the team was doing really well and we have some players,” said Benitez.

“You go in January, the World Cup and then the chances are there, and now Mitro is doing well in the Championship, fine, perfect. Hopefully, he can score 20 goals, that would be good for everyone.”

Fourth-top Fulham could attempt to sign Mitrovic on a permanent basis in the summer if they win promotion to the Premier League.

In the meantime, Mitrovic is getting games ahead of the World Cup – and adding to his value. “It’s good for him and for us and that’s it,” said Benitez.