How is Rafa Benitez dealing with the Aleksandar Mitrovic conundrum at Newcastle?
Newcastle have continued their excellent run of form, making it six wins in a row in all competitions and Aleksandar Mitrovic was one of the stars on Tuesday night. He has only played a limited role in the season to date and this will put him firmly back in contention for a regular place in the first team. The 22-year-old is a fan-favourite at St James’ Park, but he has yet to convince Rafa Benitez that he can be trusted on a weekly basis. His ill-discipline has caused him problems since moving to England and it up to him to show that he can play a prominent role in the new era at Newcastle.
The Serbian international has acted in the correct way this season and applied himself despite not playing as much as he would like. During the last international break, he netted twice for his national team, which served as a reminder to Benitez that he has the talent to become a top quality striker. He is now playing under a manager with high standards, but that doesn’t mean that he has been forgotten about. Benitez looks to improve every player in his squad and he won’t shut the door on Mitrovic. The Newcastle number 45 has been very professional in recent weeks and his two goals against Preston were the reward that he deserved.
His two goals showed different sides to the powerful striker’s game and that will have pleased his manager. The first was an excellent header to open the scoring, as he found space in the penalty area from a set-piece, but it was the second that will make the headlines. He received the ball in the box, before beating two players and slotting past Anders Lindegaard. It displayed a composure that hasn’t been present during his Magpies’ career and could suggest that the striker is developing under Benitez behind the scenes.
However, his performance wasn’t totally positive and there are still issues in his game. He had a public argument with Matt Ritchie about who would take the penalty, which will have disappointed Benitez. He also received a yellow card for taking his shirt off after his second goal. Although his passion does go down well with the Newcastle supporters, it is one of the main reasons that he isn’t in the team as Benitez doesn’t like unpredictable players and Mitrovic is certainly that.
At the weekend, Mitrovic is likely to be back on the bench as Dwight Gayle is the undisputed first choice at the club at the moment. It is difficult to disagree with that as he is the top scorer in the league and is more disciplined than his striking rival. There have been calls for Benitez to start with two strikers and that could be an option as the season progresses. That said, the Spaniard has rarely moved away from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation throughout his managerial career and it would be a surprise if he did at Newcastle.
There is encouragement from how Mitrovic is applying himself and how committed he is to Newcastle United, but there is still some way to go before he will nail down a regular spot in the first team. Although he was an expensive signing, he is only 22 years of age and his potential makes him an interesting project for Benitez. He has the attributes to develop into a very good Premier League striker and one that suits the Spaniard’s style of play. There is more to this situation than Mitrovic being simply out of favour and it will be a fascinating one to follow over the coming season.
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