There was a surprise on Saturday with the Newcastle squad when Mikel Merino didn’t make the bench.
So after a great first three months of his career at Newcastle, he got the back injury in late October, and now he is struggling a little bit at the club.
One reason he’s struggling for his place is the emergence of Mo Diame as the holding midfielder, and Diame had another terrific game for us against the Terriers.
Mikel Merino – not in the squad for Saturday
But Merino is still an outstanding young player and Rafa was asked why he was missing on Saturday:
“He was fine.”
“The problem is – and I was talking with him – when you have 18 who are training and players are coming back from international duty and they have not been around, you have to make a decision.”
“Isaac Hayden was training really well to be on the bench.
“We felt if we needed a midfielder, Hayden could be an option.
“Merino, to be fair, was also training well. The only thing is he was not around for some time.”
“Yes – we have few injuries – that’s really positive for us.”
“As I said before, the way that they were training is quite good.”
“That’s really good in any team, but especially when you are under pressure, like teams are at the bottom of the table.”
“When you are under pressure, you need competition.”
“Until Tuesday, that’s it. They have two days, that’s enough.”
The players more than deserved their two days off before preparing for the tough game at Leicester City.
But we’ll give the for former Premier League Champions a game – and if we can get another win, then we will be virtually safe in the league.
And with Stoke losing 3-0 at Arsenal yesterday they are still second bottom and a full 8 points behind us on 27 points.