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Newcastle United’s summer transfer window fell way below what the initial expectations of the fans were. So much so that, manager Rafael Benitez too has been reportedly unhappy with the backing from the board and the ownership.
However, despite their failure to strengthen the squad significantly, the Magpies have gone out and pulled off some shrewd deals. The likes of Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, Joselu, Christian Atsu etc., may not be the biggest of the names, but are more than capable enough of holding their own in the Premier League.
But, for me, their best transfer of the season, has to be that of midfielder Mikel Merino, who was signed on loan from German heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, with an obligation to make the move a permanent one next summer.
The 21-year old is highly though of back in his homeland of Spain and moved to the German club in the summer of last year, but endured a difficult start to life with BVB. He could never stake a claim for a regular spot in Thomas Tuchel’s side and as a result, managed just 8 appearances in all competitions. Despite a poor 2016/17 season, which could very well have taken a toll on his confidence, the Spain U-21 international remains a bright player.
Able to play in a number of positions in the midfield, be it as an anchor or as a box-to-box runner, Merino ticks the boxes for a number of traits needed to excel in the Premier League. Standing over 6ft 2in, the Spaniard is a robust presence in the middle of the park, and can make himself a nuisance in the opposition box in set-piece situations.
Apart from the physical side of the game, the Spaniard brings his naturally aggressive and combative nature to the midfield, using his ability to put in strong tackles and press off the ball. But, the strongest facet of his game lies in his passing and range of distribution.
Technically strong and a top-class passer of the ball, Merino has that ability to play defence-splitting passes from deep midfield areas or the cross-field passes over the opposition to switch the play and release his teammates down the flanks, with great accuracy. Throw in his ability to fill in at centre-back if need be, Newcastle may well have landed a gem on their hands.
The former Borussia Dortmund man may have had a difficult first two games against Tottenham Hotspur and Huddersfield Town, but showcased the full range of his abilities in the 3-0 drubbing of West Ham United before the international break. Merino controlled the game for his team against the Hammers, with some delightful balls forward. He also made a few surging runs, while all the time being solid and steady in his defensive duties.
One good performance is too early to jump the gun, but the signs are enough evidence that Merino could turn out to be the next big thing at the St. James’ Park. Surely, he is someone to watch out for this season!