I really liked Mikel Merino.
I thought that on the little we saw of him he looked like he could potentially be a real star of the future.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be at Newcastle United.
In the first nine Premier League matches he featured in for Newcastle last season, NUFC won four, got two draws and just three defeats.
Unfortunately, he picked up a back injury and when returning at the end of November 2017 for the 2-2 draw at West Brom, he didn’t look 100%. Starting another five games in December, Mikel Merino was named only twice in the Premier League team for Newcastle once we got into 2018.
A regular on the bench in 2018, clearly something had happened between the player and Rafa Benitez as the manager rarely used Merino as a sub in the second half of that 2017/18 PL season.
Mikel Merino moved on last summer, Real Sociedad triggering a £10m release clause he had in his contract.
Making four La Liga starts by the end of September, the midfielder was doing ok in La Liga, only to pick up a thigh injury that would plague him throughout the rest of 2018, making only one more La Liga start before we got to 2019.
On Monday he was deemed fit enough to finally start a league match again, thrown into a very tough game away to Real Madrid.
What prompted me to write this was a lame hatchet job I saw in the local (north east) media over Christmas, glorying in the ‘fact’ that Merino’s move back to Spain had supposedly proved such a disaster. No real consideration given to the fact that it was injury and fitness issues that had ruled him out of starting most of the season so far.
Up against Modric, Kroos, Casemiro and the rest on Monday, Mikel Merino was superb.
Playing the first 73 minutes before lack of games caught up with him, he left the pitch with Real Sociedad 1-0 up, a late goal seeing a final score of Real Madrid 0 Real Sociedad 2.
I came across the whoscored review of the game, their rating system uses over 200 raw statistics to calculate the player ratings and are weighted according to influence in the game – taking into account the area of the pitch and its outcome for each important event. The ratings are used by numerous sections of the football industry; including media, bookmakers and clubs themselves.
I’m not saying this means he will definitely be a star of the future but watching the shocking lack of quality in Newcastle’s midfield and forward areas this season, I certainly wish Mikel Merino was still at St James Park.