News this week that Jonjo Shelvey picked up a knee injury in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth was a big concern for NUFC fans, but there’s a more than capable replacement waiting in the wings who some may have just forgotten about – Mikel Merino.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be a real blow to see Shelvey ruled out for any length of time, but this may just give Merino his big chance to shine in midfield once again – something he did effortlessly at the start of the season before his back injury.
Shelvey’s situation is up in the air as it stands. It’s been suggested that he could yet play on Saturday if scans show no signs of real damage, however there are also lingering fears that he could be set for a long-term lay off. If it’s to be the latter then expect to see the re-emergence of Merino – a player more than capable of stepping into Shelvey’s boots in the middle.
He’s looked a little off the pace since his mid-season back injury and hasn’t quite matched the silky displays we saw from him earlier in the season, but a run in the side could soon change that.
Shelvey and Diame were building a strong partnership, but I see no reason why Merino can’t come in and play a huge part between now and the end of the season.
He may not ping cross-field passes like Shelvey, but he’s got an elegance about him on the ball, being capable of slick passes and strong challenges. He may be slight but he puts himself and makes decent use of his height, showing glimpses of his ability to play at centre-half with his ability to win aerial duels.
So, whilst potential bad news regarding Shelvey would be a blow for Benitez, the return of midfield maestro Merino would soften the blow if he could return to anything like his early season form.