Rafa Benitez has given an in-depth explanation when asked why he is not playing Aleksandar Mitrovic regularly at NUFC, suggesting that his lack of pace and our counter-attacking style are a bad mix when it comes to how he’s wanted us to play football this season.
Mitrovic has featured in three of our last 4 games, however all those appearances have come from the bench.
He helped changed the game in last week’s 2-2 draw against West Brom, and has tended to offer much more than Joselu when coming on for his cameo role, but he wasn’t brought on at all in our last outing away to Chelsea – making fans wonder what he’s got to do to be given a start by Benitez.
With this in mind, Benitez was asked to expand on his thinking and decision making when it comes to who he picks to lead the line for NUFC. Here’s what he said in an interview with the Chronicle:
“When we aren’t in the final third and the striker isn’t the quickest we then have to defend well and be strong to regain the ball.
“We can play counter-attack but can’t expect certain things from certain players.
“If we don’t have the pace in the team we can’t be in there.
“When we talk about Mitro or Joselu they are different to Dwight.
“Dwight has pace and the others are big and win balls in the air.
“It makes a big difference.”
Rafa makes a fair point. We’ve tended to counter attack this season, so Gayle’s ability to get up the pitch quickly is perhaps more suited to that of the less mobile Mitrovic or Joselu. That being said, Rafa has tended to play the latter this season – who has by no means looked quick or mobile of late.
Benitez also suggested that he picks his striker based on the fact that we have little of the ball and do not ‘control games enough’, suggesting Joselu and Gayle’s work off the ball is better than Mitrovic’s (he’s probably not wrong!):
“If we want our striker – it doesn’t matter what his name is – scoring lots of goals, we have to control our games.
“I am sure they will all, Dwight, Mitro or Joselu, score goals – especially if we made 30 crosses per game.
“But we don’t have that type of team.
“We are in the Premier League but have to realise our level.
“A lot of games we don’t have the possession or control and we have to play counter-attack.”
“If you play deep it’s more difficult for them because they are too far away.
“If we play high it is easier for them (Joselu and Mitrovic) but more difficult for Dwight Gayle.
“It’s a question of space, and a lot of fans will realise this.”
Finally, Rafa explains that he makes his decisions based on more than just a players ‘quality on the ball’.
Most fans will tell you that Mitrovic is a better footballer than Joselu, however Rafa is suggesting here that he values his relationship with Perez up front and they way they are able to work in tandem – using Diame and Gayle’s partnership as an example from last season:
“It’s not just about the characteristics of the player or their amount of quality on the ball.
“If they aren’t the quickest they have to be closer because when they aren’t you have to do a job for the team in the middle.
“When Joselu was playing there Perez is with him.
“Or when Diame has played he’s been a second striker for Dwight.
“They are doing a great job for the team because we have to defend well if we want to stay in the games.”
An interesting insight here from Rafa here and an attempt to explain his thinking behind his choices up front this season.
He doesn’t directly discuss Mitrovic much, but you can get a better idea of his thinking when reading all of the above.
One thing I would say. I’m still not sure how he can justify playing Joselu over Mitrovic every time based on his requirements that he’s explained here. Aside from work rate, can Joselu do anything better than Mitrovic can? I’m not so sure.
What do you make of all this folks?
(Fancy writing for us? Send any articles/ideas over to us at NUFCblogsubmissions@gmail.com & we’ll get back to you!)