Newcastle United supporters have been pretty frustrated in the Transfer Tavern in recent times after witnessing their side concede two late goals to only end up drawing 2-2 with fellow Premier League relegation candidates Bournemouth on Saturday.
Rafa Benitez’s men went into their clash with the Cherries off the back of beating Manchester United in their preceding league match, a result which saw them end a disastrous home run of no win in eight league matches at St James’ Park. And the Magpies took that momentum into their encounter at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday as a first half brace from Dwight Gayle set them on their way to a crucial victory, only for late strikes from Adam Smith and former Newcastle man Dan Gosling to preserve a point for Eddie Howe’s side.
As such, there have been several frustrated Magpies fans in the Tavern in the last few days, several of whom are trying to forget about their side’s woeful last ten minutes, and instead focus on their team’s trip to Liverpool in their next Premier League encounter this weekend.
Yet they may have to make the trip to Anfield without midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, as reports on Tuesday suggested that the 26-year-old suffered a knee problem in the draw against Bournemouth, and as such requires a scan to find out the severity of the injury.
And while Shelvey’s likely absence will come as a blow to Benitez’s side, it appears to be good news for fellow midfield ace Mikel Merino, who now looks set to get a big chance to stake his claim for regular football.
Ultimately, the Magpies were hugely impressed with the 21-year-old earlier this season as, just months into his loan spell from Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund, the Spain Under-21 international penned a permanent deal with the club.
And with several key displays in the heart of their midfield in the early phase of the campaign, it was hardly a surprise, but his progression has somewhat stunted since then after suffering a back problem at the rear end of October.
Since then, Merino has started just seven of their 16 Premier League games to suggest that he has been unable to return to his pre-injury form, to the point that Mo Diame, slated for his early season efforts, has become a regular fixture in Benitez’s midfield.
But there is absolutely no doubting the 21-year-old’s quality in the middle of the park, and with Shelvey set to miss Saturday’s clash at Liverpool, it is time for Merino to step up and hit the heights once again.
And against a free-flowing, confident Liverpool side at Anfield this weekend, the Magpies will need someone disciplined with great ball retention and composure in the middle of the park – Merino could be that man.
Yes, Shelvey’s absence will be a loss as, like he showed in the first half against Bournemouth, he can pull the strings in the middle of the park. But Merino demonstrated his capabilities in that midfield role earlier in the campaign, to the point that he earned a permanent deal out of it.
And while he hasn’t hit those heights since injury, Saturday’s trip to Anfield gives the £9 million-rated star (as per Transfermarkt) the perfect chance to showcase his talents once again, and thus reclaim a regular starting role in Benitez’s side.
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