Aleksandar Mitrovic, back where he belongs

There was a time when Premier League clubs thought Aleksandar Mitrovic was the sort of player who was too hard to control. As a young striker, he was fiery and combative, even with his own teammates. As recently as January 2019, he got into a brawl during his squad's... wait for it... yoga class. But now he seems settled and happy at Fulham, and he's entering his peak years as a striker. How high can he go?

Mitrovic has some of the most attractive stats among strikers in Europe's top five leagues. Just have a look at these ratings, all at a Premier League standard:

He almost always offers decent attacking output, he's dominant in the air, and it's very hard to push him off the ball. His ball retention is fine, and he's usually an aggressive defender, too. For a 26-year-old target man, these are good numbers... except for the finishing. He's poor at non-headers in open play, and his headers, though better, are still mediocre. Why might that be?

Let's have a look at Mitrovic's shot maps from last season. First, here are his non-headers in open play:

Mitrovic is absolutely deadly in the prime area between the penalty spot and goal, and he's also quite good at finishing longer shots facing the keeper head on. But further away from goal, he has a lot of shots blocked, and his finishing overall is weaker. So if he played for a club that could consistently get him the ball in that prime area, he might seem downright clinical. As things stand, he's taking shots in situations that don't show him in the best light.

Now let's look at his headers in open play:

Mitrovic puts the vast majority of his attempts on frame, and it's not a terrible return for his efforts. Again, he could probably stand to skip the shots from behind the penalty spot, where it's almost impossible to score from a header unless you can loop the ball over the keeper. It's a similar story for Mitrovic's headers from dead balls, but his non-headers include plenty of speculative attempts from outside the box:

These may be enticing shots to a striker, but they're almost always a waste of possession. Recirculating the ball and allowing Mitrovic to get back into the box could lead to a better chance.

Mitrovic has other attributes besides his shooting, of course. His smartermap shows that he's quite active in linking up the play with short passes further back on the pitch, especially in the left channel:

In this respect, a more refined Mitrovic could someday become an option for clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City, where the strikers are expected to get involved early in moves. Indeed, he could offer most of them something that's both different and hard to find. Here's a complete list of the players in our database who can match Mitrovic's aerial skill and his ability to get shots off in the box:

Oscar Cardozo was one of the most dominant strikers in Portugal and Turkey before returning to his native Paraguay. The other names will be familiar to fans of the Premier League – two of the best aerial strikers the competition has ever seen. Here's how Mitrovic compares to Fernando Llorente and Olivier Giroud:

Giroud is a better finisher, and Llorente is still dangerous, but Mitrovic is the best by far in ground duels in possession. Those other guys are also in their mid-30s.

We have to believe that regardless of what happens to Fulham this season, a bigger club will come calling for Mitrovic sometime soon. Play to his strengths, curb his wilder shots, and you'll have one of Europe's best target men. He's gotten too good for the Championship.

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[Photo: Эдгар Брещанов]

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