Players jetting off to play for their countries brings a myriad of different situations up, but what can Fulham learn from it? Jack J Collins takes a deep dive into Serbia and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The international break is a divisive place in the world of football. Some people can’t wait for club football to return, others sped their time avidly following their country around the world, and even more still simply enjoy the respite, letting the time away wash over them until their normality is restored.
There’s a few of us, however, who absolutely adore the International break, not only for the opportunity to see our own nation in action but for the opportunity to see some of the more unlikely matchups yielding a different perspective on certain players.
It got me thinking then, about the differing ways that different players contribute for club and country, and where better to start than a man in unreal form for both – our man on fire himself, Aleksander Mitrovic.
Is there anything Fulham could learn from the way Serbia feed our number nine, with his ten goals in EURO 2020 qualifying nearly equalling his total for the season so far, and especially against opposition of the calibre of Portugal or Ukraine, both of whom he netted against in the last couple of months.
So, Serbia. Over their qualification campaign, they’ve lined up mostly in a 4-2-3-1. In many ways it’s remarkably similar to Fulham’s system. At the back, Serbia utilise the crossing ability of Filip Mladenovic on the left – or occasionally Aleksandar Kolarov, although he fulfils a similar role to Tim Ream as a ball-playing CB for his country on an increasing basis – but have the more defensively-minded converted CB Nikola Milenkovic on the right hand side. Some attacking flair on the left but little on the right, in a back four – it sounds familiar.
The midfield balance rings some comparisons too. The ‘pivot’, if you will, is Palace’s Luka Milivojevic, who sits deep in the 6 role; and a rotating cast alongside him – Torino’s Sasa Lukic, Sevilla’s Milan Gudelj and Getafe’s Nemanja Maksimovic have all played there of late – all of whom offer a fair amount of defensive nous and a high-energy approach.
Mitrovic remains up top solo, for the most part; despite experiments to crowbar Real Madrid man Luka Jovic into the side alongside him. Long term, there will have to be discussions about how to get two high calibre strikers into the same side, with their strengths appearing to compliment each other, but for now, Mitrovic has kept his singular place with a streak of form that has made himself undroppable for club and country.
Mitro being able to play in a two up top, especially one which utilises a quick, poacher-type alongside him however, is something that would open up options for both Parker at club level and on the international stage, but that’s one for a little bit later on.
What’s really interesting for me is the way that Dusan Tadic operates behind Mitrovic. With Adam Llajic, Filip Kostic and Nemanja Radonjic rotating wide, Tadic has featured mostly as a number 10, relinquishing his role up front where he featured so heavily for Ajax, but still remaining tight to Mitrovic. It’s allowed Tadic to assist almost half of Mitro’s goals in qualifying this year, and it’s in this perhaps, that Fulham can learn the most from the playmaker.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen Tom Cairney drop further back to accommodate collecting the ball against opposition happy to sit deep, but on this showing, Mitrovic thrives most with someone playing close to him, allowing him to sniff out chances in the box.
Take his goal against Ukraine, for example, where Tadic is in and around the box, steps back to collect and then plants an inch perfect ball just outside the six yard box for Mitro to take down and fire home.
his is where Cairney could perhaps do similar. Sitting higher would not only add to his already impressive goals tally this season, as we saw in the first few fixtures, but also would allow him to get back into the habit of providing dimes for his frontman.
This isn’t the only solution, and in no way am I digging out the skipper, who is having a good season in his own right, but it gives Fulham options. If TC wants to drop deep, where he has shown that he can also be effective, then perhaps it’s better for him to crash back into a number 8 role alongside Harrison Reed, and let Bobby Reid play off Mitrovic in more of a 4-4-1-1.
It’s a specific role, and it would take time to adapt, but if Reid can stay forward and get around for scraps, as well as finding a partnership with our number 9, then it opens up the range of options that Fulham have, as well as allowing us to keep the ball higher up the field.
Serbia are by no means perfect, and this isn’t a suggestion that to play to their strengths would automatically benefit ours, but it’s interesting to see the levels of joy that they have had with a creative number 10 high up the field, against sides of the calibre of Portugal or Ukraine. It’s just further food for thought for Scott to allow Fulham to break down teams then things aren’t necessarily going our way.
Clearly, we won’t see these results against QPR, with Mitrovic suspended, but if Bobby Reid does lead the line as expected, and does the business, it will add weight to the ideas that a player close to Mitrovic, or experimenting with some sort of combination up top, might still be a key solution for Fulham this season.