06.08.2022
Aleksandar Mitrovic proves he is READY for the Premier League against Liverpool

With just 47 seconds on the clock, you wondered whether old habits were going to die hard. Trent Alexander-Arnold had carelessly conceded possession and handed the opportunity for Aleksandar Mitrovic to scuttle forward.

Mitrovic was Fulham’s ‘killer’ – a description given to him by captain Tom Cairney – in the Championship, with 43 goals in their title-winning campaign.

It would do his team-mates a disservice to call him a one-man band but, without him, there prospects of playing in the Premier League would have been horribly diminished.

The Premier League, however, has been a challenge for the Serbian. The last time he was here with Fulham, he managed three goals in 27 appearances.

It had been better in 2018-19, with a tally of 11 in 37 games, but not enough to suggest he was going to be a nuisance for top defenders.

So in that first minute, as he charged towards Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker, you wondered what would happen – a dead-eyed finish or ammunition for those who want to call him ‘jigsaw’, in that he falls apart in a box? A scuffed toe-poke wide suggested the latter.

Perhaps it was nerves. In the opening half-hour, he had not given Virgil van Dijk or Joel Matip any indication that they would be taken out of their comfort zone; a chance was spurned in the 24th minute, a terrible pass out wide in the 28th minute took the sting out of one counterattack.

Most glaring of all was his failure to connect with a peach of a cross from the terrific Neeskens Kebano, whose ball had whistled into the six-yard area and demanded a finish be applied.

Mitrovic grimaced as the chance came and went. His manager Marco Silva looked to the sky in despair.

A case of déjà vu again? Not a bit of it. It was as if that last moment flicked a switch for in the next attack, it felt like everyone in Craven Cottage was singing ‘Mitro’s On Fire!’ after he arrived at the back post to power in another superb ball from Fulham’s right, this one delivered by Joao Palhina.

On an afternoon when few had given Fulham much chance, here was a thrilling change of direction.

From here, you could see him visibly fill with confidence and the impact it had on his team was profound – they didn’t play with any sense of being Liverpool’s inferior and went toe-to-toe.

Nobody epitomised this approach more than Mitrovic, who went up a gear in the second period.

A sign of how much he was enjoying things came in the 56th minute when he bounced off Jordan Henderson and then turned van Dijk before setting his team away again.

It seems churlish to be questioning a player whose goal record at international is 46 in 74 games but sceptics wanted to see evidence that there would be no famine for the 27-year-old, whom Fulham boss Silva once wanted to sign for Everton.

Seeing him battling with van Dijk and becoming a focal point for Kebano to run off will have given everyone at his club belief that he can be their talisman and prove those who anticipate they will be relegated in May wrong.

Every point and every goal will be vital and Mitrovic’s penalty – awarded after VAR felt van Dijk had tripped him in the 72nd minute – was expertly dispatched.

For a short period, it seemed like he would be the match winner but Mohamed Salah had other ideas.

A shame for Mitrovic, then, but this indicates there will be even better days to come.

This has to be the Launchpad for a season in which he is talked of in terms of being prolific, not profligate.

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Sport Aleksandar Mitrovic proves he is READY for the Premier League against Liverpool