Having managed to get back to the top flight at the first time of asking, Spanish manager Rafa Benitez does not want to slow down and is looking for a strong finish in his first full season back in the Premier League this year. He has spent on some interesting and exciting prospects for the next season and the latest recruit to his midfield is Spanish ace, Mikel Merino.
A product of the academy at Osasuna in Spain, Merino joined German side Borussia Dortmund last summer but failed to get more than eight first team appearances in the Bundesliga last season. At just 21, he is still learning the trade and Rafa Benitez has identified him as a potential star and has taken him on a season long loan. For those not so familiar with the Spanish U21 international, here is a SWOT analysis in short:
Born and brought up in Pamplona in Spain, Mikel Merino Zazon started his youth career with CD Amigo, a small academy in his home town. Not long later, he was picked up by Osasuna as a teenager and he did not take too much time to be tested in the B team back in 2014.
In the same season, he also managed to make it into the senior side and in the next two years, cemented his place in the midfield, making 67 appearances in the domestic league in Spain, before moving on to Germany and the Signal Iduna Park. He earned a promotion to the Spain U21 national side last year and has already made six appearances, also picking up a goal, to stand as an exciting prospect in the domestic arena.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
A defensive midfielder by trait, the 21-year old put in some important performances as a centre back in the previous season for the German side and came out with flying colours. Known for his aggressive approach on the field and technical ability with the ball at his feet, Merino is a decent passer who can find his man even under pressure in dangerous areas.
Though he still has to work on his man marking abilities, he is adept at dominating his box, or the area in front of it and what he does, once in possession of the ball, is what will excite Rafa Benitez. He has to be stronger to withstand the physical approach of the Premier League but mentally, he is not too far away from being a productive midfielder for the Magpies next season.
Opportunities and threats:
However, playing in three different leagues in three consecutive years is not something a 21-year old should be doing, at this time of his career. At Dortmund, he failed to get regular game time in his preferred position and it is hard to see him get any more in his time in England.
Jack Colback and Issac Hayden are the options for Benitez next season. Chancel Mbemba was also effective in this role, in front of the backline and the manager will surely look at them as the first choice options for the club next season.
However, Merino is just one injury to this midfield away from finding a place on the bench, even in a Premier League game and if he is able to prove himself in the first few games, he is playing for a manager, who can turn him into a world class player in just a year.