At the beginning of the 2018/19 season, the football fans in London expected a new challenger after Fulham were promoted to the Premier League. The team at Craven Cottage Stadium spent over one hundred million euros to sign 13 new players, including players who eventually went on loan, according to Transfermarkt. But despite the fans’ expectation; instead of staying, Fulham got demoted back to the Championship after only one season of playing in the English top-flight.
Back to the Championship under Scott Parker’s management, Fulham are on their way back to the Premier League. They got 64 points with 52 goals scored and conceded only 38 goals after 37 matches. Now, they are heading to the play-off with an impressive resume. Speaking of Parker’s success with The Cottagers this season, we cannot ignore the contribution from a player who has the potential to become a top-class striker and who also rejected offers to leave Craven Cottage – the striker who scored almost half of Fulham’s goals in the 2019/20 season: Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Mitrović was rated as one of the most talented forwards out there at the age of 19 and in fact, he was the best Serbian striker at that time. Despite receiving many good chances to play for other teams in Europe, even for Tottenham Hotspur among others, the Serbian decided to stay and his position as the Championship top-scorer with 23 goals was his reward for working hard alongside his teammates. In this tactical analysis piece, we will highlight Mitrović’s noticeable strengths and also his main role in Parker’s tactics.
Style of play
With the height of 188cm and 90kg alongside the ability to easily protect the ball by using his back makes us think that Mitrović is a pure target man like Odion Ighalo or Romelu Lukaku. However, the Serbian has various methods of finishing, short-range acceleration and the ability to maximise the advantage that physical strength gives him to shield the ball well; those things make him an excellent poacher – the kind of striker who is very dangerous when operating inside the box, with a great sense of space and finding scoring chances.
Fulham’s tactics are easy to comprehend: They try to process the ball into the final third, undertake many kinds of crosses – early crosses, low crosses or grounded crosses – and expect Mitrović to finish them by putting the ball inside the net. Easier said than done; touching the ball and finishing quickly in the box with many central defenders and defensive midfielders requires a striker with the ability to hold and handle the ball while also being able to sustain the pressure of more than one opponent.
On the ground
As we said previously, the box is a crowded area where the defensive players have to gather to protect the goal; thus Mitrović has to find a way to get rid of the markers and find space to pounce on the ball.
Due to his muscular frame, apparently the Serbian striker’s pace is not so impressive. Nevertheless, it is enough for a player who usually operates inside the box; the former Newcastle striker’s acceleration on short distances helps him to escape his opponent and receive the ball and finish it. The Fulham’s captain often moves side by side with the defenders and then suddenly accelerates after his teammate crosses the ball into the box. By doing this, especially with the low-crosses or grounded crosses, Mitrović can easily create the element of surprise and touch the ball when his opponents freeze.
The 26-year-old striker also utilises his acceleration outside the box when another Fulham player is carrying the ball to the central areas. Instead of running straight, Mitrović runs diagonally and receives a through ball from his fellow teammate.
He communicates well too. In those above instances, we can obviously observe that Mitrović always gives his colleagues a signal to pass the ball through before running to the pointed space.
It also proves the Serbian’s brilliant space awareness and vision – which is another reason why Parker chose him as the captain and the leader of their attack. Let’s observe another example of that trait below.
In spite of doing both things well, he cannot always receive the ball when facing the goalie. The weakness of a striker who has a big body is that defenders always keep their eyes on him and there is no escape without space to accelerate into. If a striker of that type cannot handle the ball in tight spaces, he’ll often struggle to create great goal-scoring chances.
Fortunately, Mitrović knows how to use his hips. Having a huge body does not make him less agile. Basically, when Fulham’s number nine turns his back to the goal and his teammate passes the ball to him, Mitrović receives the ball while shielding it then quickly turns himself around and gets away from his marker. This is another way to surprise the defenders.
Above all, the most important thing that makes a striker a good poacher is the finishing methods. In Johan Cruyff’s conception, “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.” It seems like Mitrović understands this quite well.
No dribbles, no dancing with the ball; he just puts himself in the right place, at the right time and slots the ball into the net. It can be an easy or a difficultsituation, Mitrović still can find the angle and strike with one or two simple touches with his right foot.
As we mentioned in the first section, Mitrović does not perform as a pure target man; however, it can be waste if he doesn’t use his physical strength. Alongside the ability to shield and hold the ball, the player who participated in the 2018 FIFA World Cup has an admirable aerial reach and powerful headers; do not forget that his opening goal against Switzerland two years ago came from an accurate header that comfortably beat Yann Sommer between the sticks. All the more reason for Fulham to continue playing through the flanks.
Similarly to playing on the ground, Mitrović’s aerial danger comes from simple acts. Fulham’s combination in the flanks attracts the opponent’s attention and forces them to gather close to the near post, therefore there are few players who stand near the far post. This provides Mitrović with a more comfortable foothold to jump comfortably.
On the other hand, Mitrović’s impressive head striking ability also comes from his outstanding jump reach. Once he finds the right dropping spot of the ball, all the Serbian has to do is jump higher than his marker.
Operating inside the box does not give a poacher many chances, so if he wants to exploit as much space as he can, he must be good at using his weaker foot. Mitrović isn’t. The fans may be very excited whenever he’s using his right foot and they can count on him to deploy an accurate, simple finish; but things often go wrong when it comes to his left foot. His left foot shots are quite terrible, usually blocked by defenders, or simply very inaccurate.
Finally, the problem that does not allow Mitrović to be a target man is the way how he controls a long-range pass. His ability to sustain the opponent’s pressure is noticeable and seems like that no one can stop him from receiving a long ball.
But he often lets the ball bounce too far off his chest and also out of his control; that’s the reason why he can not distribute it to others.
The team under Scott Parker’s management had a remarkable campaign in the Championship this season and they are heading towards promotion to the Premier League. In this scout report, we provide you Aleksandar Mitrović’s enormous contribution to his team and the reason why he is the current top scorer in the Championship.
If Fulham get promoted, their striker may receive many offers from other clubs and when the time comes, he’ll have to decide whether to leave or not. From this analysis, it seems that he can reach the top-class level in the next few years and could become Serbia’s star striker alongside Luka Jović.