However tough a time he had last season, Aleksandar Mitrovic remains Fulham’s best route back to the Premier League. The Serbian striker is a proven goalscorer in the Championship – as he proven across a couple of stellar seasons at Craven Cottage – and will give any central defensive pairing a serious run for their money. It remains baffling that Mitrovic made only thirteen league starts under Scott Parker last year and you could hardly blame our talisman for considering pastures new had the now Bournemouth manager still been in place this summer.
Perhaps the biggest boost from Marco Silva’s first press conference at Motspur Park was just how warmly he spoke about Mitrovic’s qualities and importance to the side. It isn’t rocket science after his 26-goal return in Fulham’s last promotion, but a different type of man management is needed when dealing with a character like our number nine. Mitrovic needs a head coach who believes in him, puts an arm around his shoulder and makes him the focal point of the attack. He thrived under compatriot Slavisa Jokanovic at Craven Cottage because his belief was rebuilt after being frozen out at St. James’ Park – and the hope is that Silva can coax that sort of unplayable form from him again.
I wonder if the return of supporters to grounds this season will actually provide the biggest boost for Mitrovic, who relishes the battle on the field, and clearly gets a lift from the roar of the crowd. He wants to be loved – and you could see from the way he abandoned a television interview to run to the Fulham faithful when ‘Mitro’s on fire’ started playing after the play-off final at Wembley that he enjoys a special relationship with the fanbase. He thrives from the backing of the crowd – and even an extra ten per cent could be crucial as we contemplate the chaos of another Championship season.
It isn’t difficult to imagine how Silva will seek to deploy Mitrovic after the Portuguese head coach used Troy Deeney and Cenk Tosun as target men in his time at Watford and Everton respectively. The Serbian striker, so strong in the air and a force to be reckoned with in the box, never got the sort of service that he thrives upon during the Parker era – which makes his goal return in the promotion season all the more remarkable. His most regular source of a dangerous cross was from Joe Bryan in 2020 and that partnership might prove productive again this term.
Mitrovic might not be blessed with the sort of pace that allows the modern striker to beat a backline that has pushed high up the field, but his hold-up play is second to none. He might not have been at his dominant best against Charlton in Fulham’s final pre-season friendly yesterday, but that is no surprise given he has only had two weeks of training at Motspur Park. There were still a couple of deft touches to set up chances for others and it is interesting to see him absolutely breaking his neck to try and join Fabio Carvalho in the box as the goalscorer latched onto Tyrese Francois’ brilliant through ball. The hunger is definitely there.
There’s no doubt that utilising Mitrovic as the focal point of the Fulham attack is the best way to guarantee goals. Mitrovic might well benefit from early cross from the likes of Harry Wilson, Bryan, Ivan Cavaleiro or Knockaert but he is also a hulking presence that needs to be monitored by opposition defences. He can suck several defenders towards him, creating space for others around and inside the box, and his reading of the game is often unremarked upon.
Mitrovic will benefit more than most from the fresh start at the Cottage. It was clear that there was disconnect between our talisman and Fulham’s previous manager last term, but Silva has left nobody in any doubt as to just how highly he rates the former Newcastle forward. He won’t need reminding that Serbia have profited from Mitrovic being at the heart of almost every attack and, once he has blown off the cobwebs following his summer honeymoon, the Championship will be terrified. I’m certain we’ll be hearing Gala hit over and over again this season.