It is eight weeks since Mikel Merino last started a game and in that time the only match Newcastle have won, was the Crystal Palace game where the 21 year old came on and scored the winner against Crystal Palace.
That was the Spaniard’s last first team involvement as the back injury originally picked up in that 1-1 draw with Liverpool eventually meant complete rest was needed.
Hopes were raised of an early comeback when video footage eight days ago showed Mikel Merino training alone at his old club Osasuna during the international break.
However, interviewed ahead of Saturday’s match with Watford, it sounds very much like the club will be taking it slowly with any return.
The good news is that on Thursday the midfielder ‘managed all of the training’ for the first time during his recuperation – but there is surely no way Rafa Benitez will risk playing him only 48 hours later.
Alan Pardew would no doubt have Mikel Merino already written down on his teamsheet having taken repeated risks when he was at Newcastle with players who had been injured, often backfiring on him and the team/club when they ended up being out for longer.
With 10 games in a 37 day period there will be plenty of opportunity for Merino to help the team once again and I can’t see the Spanish Under 21 international even on the bench tomorrow.
With Isaac Hayden suspended it leaves little option but to put Diame or Saivet in the centre of midfield with Jonjo Shelvey.
Everything crossed that full fitness comes soon and most importantly no setbacks with his back injury, in only a handful of matches Mikel Merino has shown he could be vital to what happens this season and beyond.
Mikel Merino talking to NUFC TV:
“It is always hard not being able to play football, getting injured, having to watch the team while not being able to help.
“But I have been trying to stay positive and put 100% into my recovery, I know that now it is not long before I will be back.
“I’m now doing double sessions with the fitness coach to strengthen that and also my core, also working to improve my general fitness.
“I don’t feel the pain now as much as I did at the beginning.
“Since I returned here I have mainly been training by myself.
“I had only trained with the rest of team in maybe two or three sessions which were not too hard for me.
“Today (Thursday) I managed all of the training and I am very happy about that and it’s now about seeing how I feel in the next few days and how I manage in each session.
“My body feels stronger now and ready to step up and train harder, I feel good because I can feel the improvements day by day and that gives me more strength.
“I hope I can be back 100% very soon – I want to take my time but I want to help my team too.
“Giving it the right time is important and we all have to take care in the recovery from any injury.
“The players are working hard and I can see this when I have come back and of course I want to play again with the team and help them.
“Each day I am closer and feel stronger – each day I work harder.”