According to Noticias de Gipuzkoa, as cited by Sport, FC Barcelona are closely tracking the progress of Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Merino this summer. The Catalans are scouring the market for a potential long-term replacement for Sergio Busquets, and it is believed Merino has been identified as one of the candidates.
Merino’s successful spell at Sociedad
Merino was roped in from Newcastle United for a fee of €12 million last summer. And the addition of the ex-Borussia Dortmund star has been a boon for the club, as the player shined in his role as the central midfielder. The 23-year-old ended the campaign making 29 appearances, during which he was involved in eight goals.
Merino built a formidable midfield partnership with the likes of Asier Illaramendi and Igor Zubeldia that played a critical role in ensuring Sociedad’s ninth-placed finish in the league. And his importance at the club grew further when Illaramendi was sidelined with a muscle injury in February, causing La Real to appear overreliant on the services of the Pamplona native.
What can Merino bring to the table?
Merino is a versatile midfielder, who can cover all three central midfield positions. He is mainly known for his technical prowess and excellent passing range as he rarely loses possession of the ball.
The 23-year-old is also a strong tackler while his 1.89m frame makes him an intimidating figure in central midfield. It also gives him a considerable advantage in the air. He was even nicknamed “Air Merino” by a large section of the Dortmund fans during his time at Ruhrpott.
Despite being labelled as a defence minded midfielder, Merino’s attacking game has evolved a lot in recent years, which is indicated by his excellent statistics this past season. He scored three league goals and provided five assists – a tally significantly better than what he managed during his time at Newcastle and Dortmund.
Should Barcelona make a move for Merino?
Barcelona are okay with being patient in terms of their pursuit of Merino, which is the right thing to do. The Spanish giants do not immediately need any new central midfielders, with the likes Arturo Vidal, Arthur Melo, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic still likely to play a prominent role next season.
Besides, it will be interesting to see how Frenkie de Jong manages to integrate to the Barcelona side next season. The Dutchman is a well-rounded midfielder and could potentially emerge as the club’s primary deep-lying playmaker, in which case, Merino’s services won’t be needed.
Hence, the Catalans should wait at least one more season just to ensure they need Merino. And with academy youngsters like Oriol Busquets and Carles Alena showing immense promise, it’s unlikely they will require anyone in the near future.
Stat courtesy: Whoscored