How Newcastle outcast Mitrovic morphed into Fulham’s star striker in promotion push

Twelve months ago, Aleksandar Mitrovic was a bit-part player in Newcastle United’s promotion, but now the Serbian striker is now spearheading Fulham’s late, great push for a return to the top flight.

Since dropping back down to the Championship in January on loan, the striker has looked like a new man. He’s been crucial to helping the Cottagers to extend their unbeaten run to 22 games and they are guaranteed at least a play-off position with two games to go.

After scoring just four goals in the Championship last season, Mitrovic has netted 11 times in 15 appearances for Fulham. But what has changed for the enigmatic 23-year-old?

It’s no secret that Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez and Mitrovic didn’t get on during his time at Newcastle, with the Magpies boss preferring the likes of Dwight Gayle, Joselu and Ayoze Perez in attack. Before joining Slavisa Jokanovic’s side on loan, Mitrovic had made just six substitute appearances in the Premier League this season.

Mitrovic was sent off twice in his debut season at Newcastle and his unpredictable temperament drew criticism in the past, with Benitez unhappy with the forward after a 6-0 win against Preston last season when he was booked for his celebration after scoring his second goal of the game. He was then involved in an altercation with Matt Ritchie about who was going to take a penalty when Mitrovic was on for a hat-trick.

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Rather than praise Mitrovic for his brace, Benitez reprimanded the striker for his behaviour, saying: “It’s a silly thing to do and you don’t need to do it.

“They need to know that arguing to take a penalty when we have already decided on a penalty taker also makes no sense.”

But Fulham boss Jokanovic has enjoyed a better relationship with Mitrovic than Benitez did, with the pair both having previously been at Partizan Belgrade.

Jokanovic seems to have curbed that temper in Mitrovic, with the striker showing a new-found ability not to react after he was elbowed in the head against QPR last month.

A difference in playing styles has also enabled Mitrovic to shine, with the £14.5 million man critical of Newcastle’s system, saying that he prefers the attacking set-up at Craven Cottage.

“This season, this team, we always try to score more goals than the opponent,” he said. “Newcastle was more tactically [set up].

“We didn’t play as much attacking football as I play now.”

Aleksandar Mitrovic, Newcastle, 17/18

Mitrovic has also been perfect for Fulham’s system as Jokanovic’s side love to play the ball wide to utilise their pacy wingers and full-backs, and then cross low into the box.

Earlier in the season, Fulham were struggling for goals without someone in Mitrovic’s mould, and this was particularly evident in a 1-1 draw with Derby at home in November when Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon repeatedly played balls across the six-yard box with nobody there to finish.

Mitrovic has been the man in those positions in recent weeks, with his goals against Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday coming from low crosses.

A lack of a plan B was also a criticism of Fulham earlier in the season as their possession style was unravelled by teams who pressed high up the pitch. Burton Albion and Bristol City figured this out when beating the Whites in September and October respectively.

But, with Mitrovic up top, Fulham now have a focal point for their attacks, whereas goals were spread throughout the squad before his arrival. He has allowed Fulham to play a different style when they’ve needed as well, especially when a change of approach against Preston saw Mitrovic score twice in a 2-1 win.

Fulham legend Barry Hayles was full of praise for the impact Mitrovic has made at Craven Cottage, telling Goal: “Mitrovic has been a great signing, his ability to hold up the ball and bring the team up the field has been invaluable and his goalscoring just adds to how well the team is performing at the moment.”

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Last year, Mitrovic was not getting much time on the pitch as Newcastle breezed towards promotion from the Championship, finishing nine points clear of third place.

Fast forward 12 months, however, and Mitrovic has a point to prove. He seems desperate to show everyone that Benitez was wrong to send him out on loan and he has another promotion firmly in his sights.

He is playing regular football in a system he likes and under a manager he respects. Mitrovic, Jokanovic and Fulham will now hope to finish the job and join Newcastle in the Premier League.

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Swansea City v Chelsea Betting Tips: Latest odds, team news, preview and predictions

FA Cup finalists Chelsea can turn up the heat on Tottenham Hotspur in the race for Champions League qualification with a win against Swansea City on Saturday evening.

Spurs are not in action until Monday night and Antonio Conte’s charges will close to within two points of Mauricio Pochettino’s team by taking all three points in south Wales.

Latest odds

Chelsea are chalked up as a 1/2 (1.50) chance with dabblebet to do just that, while the odds compilers offer 16/5 (4.20) that the Blues are forced to settle for a share of the spoils on this occasion.

The Swans have been beaten in just two of their last 10 league matches on home soil and can be backed at 6/1 (7.0) to win this weekend.

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Team news

Marcos Alonso completes his three match ban against the Swans and the Spanish star will again be a big miss for the Blues. David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater remain out.

Renato Sanches, Leroy Fer and Wilfried Bony are long-term absentees for the Swans, with all three men expected to miss the remainder of the campaign.

Carlos Carvalhal will be hopeful that Luciano Narsingh is passed fit whilst Sam Clucas could start after coming off the bench last weekend, but Federico Fernandez is rated as doubtful.

Goals galore

There have been at least three goals scored in six of the last seven Premier League matches that Chelsea have contested away from Stamford Bridge and dabblebet go even money (2.0) that the trend continues in this clash.

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The Blues have failed to find the net in just one of those seven matches, while Swansea have scored in five successive Premier League matches at Liberty Stadium.

Indeed, dabblebet offer a tempting 6/5 (2.20) that both teams are on target on this occasion.

Predictions

Swansea have not won any of their last six fixtures in all competitions and Chelsea can maintain their quest for Champions League qualification with a vital victory.

Conte’s side will come into this match in confident mood and the 5/6 (1.83) quote for the Blues to win a match featuring at least two goals could represent good value for punters.

Betting Banner - Best BetChelsea to win and over 1.5 goals at 5/6 (1.83) for a 2pt stake with dabblebet 

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‘Sometimes I don’t really like him’ – Alexander-Arnold on ‘nightmare’ training sessions with Salah

Mohamed Salah is such a nightmare to train against that Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold ‘does not really like him’ sometimes.

Salah is enjoying a marvellous first campaign at Anfield, having arrived from Roma in pre-season in a deal which could reach €50 million.

The Egyptian has made a huge impact, scoring 43 goals in all competitions, including 31 in the Premier League, equalling the division’s record for the biggest haul in a single 38-game season.

He has also played a vital role in Liverpool’s surge to the Champions League semi-finals, before scoring a stunning brace in Tuesday’s 5-2 first-leg win against his previous side.

And Alexander-Arnold suggests his team-mate is just as good in training, with the young full-back relieved he does not have to face him in competitive games.

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“During the week it’s a nightmare because you’re up against him,” Alexander-Arnold told reporters. “During the week, there’s sometimes I don’t really like him because he does that stuff to me.

“That’s what he does day in, day out. It’s just become second nature to him now and it’s a credit to him. We’re really happy to be playing with him rather than against him.”

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Alderweireld to Man Utd? Campbell claims Spurs star won’t emulate his controversial Arsenal switch

Toby Alderweireld may be stuck in contract stalemate with Tottenham, but Sol Campbell cannot see him walking out to join an arch-rival such as Manchester United.

The Belgium international defender has seen his future called into question after failing, or refusing, to commit to fresh terms at Spurs.

At present, he is only tied to the north London club until 2019 – although his deal does include the option for a 12-month extension.

Triggering that agreement would activate a £25 million release clause, but Campbell believes the situation will be resolved one way or another this summer, preventing that fee being set or the threat of free agency.

A man who famously quit Spurs to join Arsenal in 2001 told Express Sport: “I think my situation was different. I was much younger.

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“If a team wants you bad enough they’ll make it happen and come to a compromise and either he’ll stay at Tottenham or he’ll move on.

“I don’t think Tottenham will allow him to drift on for 18 months, a deal will be struck either way.”

Alderweireld has made just three appearances – with two of those coming in the FA Cup – since returning from injury in February.

Mauricio Pochettino has maintained that his absence is not due to contractual issues, but Campbell is not so sure as the 29-year-old was considered to be one of the first names on the team sheet and one of the finest centre-halves in world football before transfer talk was sparked.

The former England international added: “I don’t know what he’s demanding wage wise. Is he happy there? I don’t know.

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“Sometimes big deals need a bit of a conversation and people start at a certain level and then reality kicks in.

“He’s a top player, the fans love him. I think they’ve got to try their best to keep him.

“He likes Tottenham but then something could kick in and the whole situation shifts because the forces have shifted and opinions have shifted and that happens in these big deals. The slightest thing can shift and put it off course.”

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Bale assured by Zidane that Real Madrid are still ‘relying’ on him despite bench duty

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has insisted that he will be relying on Gareth Bale late in the season despite leaving the attacker on the bench against Bayern Munich.

Bale was an unused substitute as Madrid recorded a 2-1 win over Bayern in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.

The Wales international has made just five appearances – three of those starts – in Europe’s premier club competition this season.

But Zidane says Bale still has a role to play late in the season for Madrid, although there has been plenty of speculation over the 28-year-old’s future.

“I have to make choices and I’ve got some very good players in the squad,” he told a news conference.

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“There are some players who are performing well at the moment.

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“There are still more games to come and I’ll be relying on him. It’s not true that I don’t play him.”

Former Tottenham star Bale has been heavily linked with a return to the Premier League, either at Spurs or their domestic rivals Manchester United.

He has also been mooted as a possible transfer target for Bayern, with the door being left open to a potential switch to Germany.

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