Full-backs across the world will wince when they see the footage of Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first goal against Liverpool at Craven Cottage. Not just because the ball ended up in the back of Liverpool’s net, but because it was a minor miracle that Trent Alexander-Arnold did not go in with it.
There are few situations more unenviable than the one Alexander-Arnold found himself facing in the first-half here. Backpedalling, underneath a looping cross, knowing that Mitrovic is waiting behind him. This was Mitrovic’s ball as soon as it had left the foot of Kenny Tete, out on the right wing, and Alexander-Arnold will not be the first to be overpowered in such devastating fashion this season.
After a ludicrous tally of 43 goals in 44 Championship games last season, Mitrovic is now on two goals in one game in the Premier League this time around. He will not maintain that rate of scoring, obviously, but this was the perfect start as he attempts to prove wrong those who question whether he can consistently deliver the required quality in the top flight.
The accusation frequently made against the Serbian is that he is something of a flat-track bully: good for pulverising Championship defences, less good against the best in the business. Well, they do not get much better than Virgil van Dijk, who was so flummoxed by Mitrovic in the second half that he conceded his first penalty in the Premier League since October 2018.
Within the Fulham squad there is no doubt about Mitrovic’s ability. He struggled in the Premier League in 2020/21 not because he was not good enough, but because he did not play. Scott Parker preferred a counter-attacking style, which did not suit the big striker. Marco Silva has different ideas and a different system, and Mitrovic is thriving under his guidance.
“In the box he will score if you provide him good chances,” said Silva. “But Mitro is not just a goalscorer for us. He did an unbelievable job for us without the ball. The way he pressed, the way he helped the midfielders, the way he helped the backline as well.
“It is fantastic to see that even with the work he did, in the 70th minute he can take the ball and run 30 or 40 metres and win a penalty like he won. He was fantastic. He deserved the two goals for the good performance.
“Mitro is the top scorer of his national team and national teams do not play just against Championship clubs. They play against the best national teams in the world. He will be at the World Cup, he was decisive in the qualification playoff against Portugal. So for me, some of the questions don’t make sense.”
Liverpool certainly could not make sense of Mitrovic, in the air or on the ground. It was a tone-setting sort of performance from the striker, still only 27, and Fulham will need him to maintain this form as they fight for their Premier League survival this season.
And why shouldn’t he keep this up? He knows what he can do, and so do his team-mates. Against Liverpool he looked like a player who is embracing his role as primary goal threat and undisputed talisman. Defenders beware: Mitrovic is back in the Premier League, and he is ready to show why he deserves to stay here.