Any Dortmund supporter should be sad to see Mikel Merino leave the club. A player who struggled to get any significant time on the pitch, much less break into the starting eleven for Die Borussen. Merino starred for Osasuna as he helped the club gain promotion to La Liga following the 2015-16 season.
A talented player, this could be another case of Dortmund overloading their roster with young players, unable to get everyone the necessary playing time they need in order to reach their full potential. Look closely at Dortmund’s central defensive midfielders and you will see why playing time is indeed, so precious.
We begin with all-everything CDM Julian Weigl, who at the moment is injured, but upon return, will regain his Stammplatz (starting spot) in the first eleven. Next, there is newly-acquired Mahmoud Dahoud, who joins Dortmund from Borussia Mönchengladbach. The Dortmund brass have high hopes for this Germany U21 International.
Moving down the CDM line we come across Sebastian Rode, a talented lad when he played for Eintracht Frankfurt, yet has underachieved in his last stop with mega-powers Bayern Munich, as well as currently with BVB. Lastly, we arrive at the “old guard,” Nuri Sahin and Gonzalo Castro. These are players Merino was brought in to replace, but seemingly never could outperform on a consistent basis. Is Merino another case of too much too soon?
Only a few weeks ago, Borussia Dortmund and new manager Peter Bosz came to the conclusion that Mikel Merino, after only one season with the club, did not fit into the immediate team plans. And thus, they found a suitor, Newcastle United FC, who agreed to a season-long loan of the player, with an option to buy.
As someone who follows Dortmund very closely, I can verify that The Magpies have acquired themselves a fantastic young player with a great deal of upside. So what does Merino bring to the table?
Mikel Merino is six foot two inches tall, so it is no surprise he won over 60% of his aerial duels while at Osasuna. He likes to help his team with or without the ball and has a tendency to press forward in attack.
A great tackler, Merino rarely loses a challenge when going after the ball. His success rate in that department was stellar, having won 18 of 19 attempted tackles last season. In addition, he is able to read the game well and over time, could be an absolute tower for Newcastle, as he patrols in front of the back four.
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez will need to exhibit patience with Merino. The player missed most of the pre-season for Newcastle but is expected to be a regular starter for NUFC once he has a full grasp of what Benitez will be asking of him.
At this stage though, he is not only still early in his development but is also playing in a new league as well. It should not be overlooked that this is, in fact, Merino’s third league in as many years, and his fourth manager. Benitez could opt to stick with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation which brought Newcastle the Championship title last season.
In this situation, Merino would likely play as a “double six” next to either Jonjo Shelvey or Isaac Hayden in front of the back line. As an alternative, Newcastle could easily line up in a 4-1-4-1 with Merino serving as the sole CDM on the pitch.
With their new signings, Newcastle United have given Rafa Benitez a lot of talent to work with. Beyond just talented players, this group is also hungry for success. Rest assured Merino is eager to prove that he was wrongly ousted from the Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund.
Do not be surprised if it takes him a few months before he truly makes an impact for his new club. By mid-season, however, it is my expectation to see an intelligent, energetic, and motivated defensive behemoth orchestrating the midfield for Newcastle and a player who may have finally found his home in the Premier League, as a Magpie.
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