Keep him Rafa – Why it could be disastrous for Newcastle to let go of their £8.7m-rated ace

According to reports, Newcastle United midfielder Mikel Merino is wanted by La Liga clubs Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao in the summer transfer window.

Newcastle signed Merino on a permanent deal in October for £8m, having initially arrived on a season-long loan from Borussia Dortmund last summer. Despite a fantastic start, the Spaniard majorly struggled for first-team football under Rafael Benitez during the second half of the season, after returning from a back injury.

The Magpies are reportedly likely to allow Merino leave the club should a suitable offer arrive for him. He is currently valued at £8.7m but Newcastle could demand more. But let us have a look at the midfielder’s statistics this season and then decide should Newcastle sell him or keep him.

Merino, 21, hails from the Spanish hub of creative midfielders. He is just as comfortable sitting and defending in front of his own box as he is playing in an advanced role. The Spaniard is adept at winning the ball back, recycling possession and setting his team up seamlessly.

Mikel Merino

At 6ft 2in, Merino is aerially strong and is combative in nature. He has the required height to challenge in the air but also the passing ability, skill and composure to knit play together in the middle of the park. In fact, the 21-year-old is an all-action midfielder. You can slot him into any midfield role and he is capable of giving his best to the team in any circumstances.

However, Merino failed to break into the first-team after returning back from injury. He found it difficult to get in the starting line-up ahead of Mohamed Diame and Jonjo Shelvey. Diame’s resurgence in the second half of the season and Shelvey’s artistry in midfield saw Merino start just one game since January.

Though a back injury hampered his progress this season, Merino found himself out of Newcastle’s matchday squads on a number of occasions, even when fully fit. It was understandable considering Diame and Shelvey had formed a brilliant partnership in the midfield which Benitez was rightfully reluctant to break.

Barring one start, Merino further made only three substitute appearances, playing just 20 minutes in total during the final two months of the season. In all, the 21-year-old clocked just 1,343 minutes this term, which is very less compared to what the fans had expected at the start of the term.

Mikel Merino (on the ball)

Merino made 24 appearances in the Premier League, scoring just once which turned out to be the winner at St. James’ Park against Crystal Palace.

He created only 15 chances for his teammates and enjoyed an average passing accuracy of 78%. Despite having a tall frame, the Spaniard won just 46% of average aerial duels. Defensively disciplined, Merino only picked up three yellow cards.

In just a year, Merino has become a firm favourite amongst the Newcastle fans. When fit, he was Newcastle’s arguably most influential player. Of course, an injury affected his season but before that, the 21-year-old showed what he is capable of doing in the middle of the park, week in week out.

At any cost, Benitez must not let go of one of his young and influential stars in Merino. His work rate and attitude on the pitch would take him far ahead in his career.

Stats Courtesy: Squawka.

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