Claudio Ranieri labelled Aleksandar Mitrovic one of the best strikers in the world after he scored twice in Saturday’s priceless 3-2 win over Southampton.
Ranieri’s first game in charge of Fulham, who sacked Slavisa Jokanovic with the club rooted to the bottom of the Premier League after 12 matches, ended in victory as Mitrovic claimed his first domestic goals since September, the second a superb volley.
The triumph lifted the Cottagers up to 19th in the table, but level on points with Southampton in 17th.
A delighted Ranieri said in a news conference: “Everybody is very pleased but it’s a little step because it’s not easy. It’s not an easy job for everybody but I believe until the end.
“For me, Mitrovic is one of the best strikers in Europe. When I say in Europe, I say all the world. He’s only 24 years old, he’s a fantastic player and it is important to give the ball to him.”
Although Ranieri saw his reign begin with a win, Fulham’s defensive woes were again evident as Stuart Armstrong scored twice for Southampton. They have now conceded 33 goals in 13 league games.
Asked if he was facing one of the biggest jobs of his long career in tightening up Fulham’s backline, Ranieri said: “Yes, yes. All the team must maintain the right position; it’s very important.
“In this case they run less and they are always in good position and for the opponent it’s more difficult.
“I asked the players to fight until the end. We played a good match but we conceded too many chances to the opponent and we have to improve a lot and work hard to improve tactically. All the year I must work, and next year.”
The result piles further pressure on Mark Hughes, whose Southampton side remain winless in the league since September 1.
“We were in the ascendancy for the vast majority but defensively we allowed them clear-cut chances that they were able to take,” Hughes told Sky Sports. “That is the only thing that is letting us down.
“Come tomorrow we will get the stats back and I would think all but the one that counts will be in our favour. We have to find a way to turn that around. We are a little bit too easy to score against at the moment.”