The mystery of Mikel Merino – From midfield maestro to missing out on matchday squads

In October 2017, Mikel Merino had just scored the winner at St.James’ Park against rock bottom Crystal Palace to cap a fine run of form for both him personally and a newly promoted Newcastle side, as we rose as high as 7th in the table. Our form naturally tailed off as we fought relegation but Merino continued to shine in a poor side. With Newcastle now in the midst of an outstanding run that has saw us climb back into the top half and secure safety with five games to go; just what happened to Merino?

He has had a poor 2018 as he has deal with injury, loss of form and transfer speculation – a total contrast from the elegant and classy midfielder we saw at the start of the campaign. What has went wrong for the former Dortmund man?

 The fine form of Diame and Shelvey

The most obvious reason at the moment is the outstanding form of both Shelvey and Diame, which has pushed Merino down the pecking order. Rafa Benitez must have been the only one to envisage the turnaround in fortunes for Mo Diame, with the Senegalese midfielder being instrumental in our revival. Latest press reports also seem to think Southgate is finally recognising Shelvey and he may now make the World Cup squad after all.

Fine form from this pair is one thing but it doesn’t explain the Merino case fully. Merino was being dropped before Diame was playing well and eve, the Spaniard now isn’t even making the bench. Hayden has been preferred for that, which seems odd to say the least. Hayden has a good attitude but nowhere near the ability of Merino, especially to change a game. You get the sense there is more to Merino’s exclusion than just the form of others.

Unsettled after Bilbao rumours?

Another theory could be the speculation in January, which seems to have derailed Merino at Newcastle. After signing him permanently, Athletic Bilbao apparently lined up a bid in excess of £15m and remain interested. Rafa came out and said he wouldn’t be leaving in January and so he stayed on Tyneside but has not played much, or well, since.

Despite impressive interviews, it could well be that behind closed doors Merino pushed for the move and fell out of favour with Benitez. We all know Rafa doesn’t take well to distractions and proven by the Mitrovic case, player taking on the boss tend to be frozen out quickly. He has massive potential but I would not be surprised to see the Bilbao move materialise in the summer.

 Still struggling after injury issues?

Another key factor has been injuries, Merino has struggled with a back injury for most of the year. After it only being diagnosed initially as a few weeks, it seemed to escalate and cause him more problems than expected.

When he did eventually return he has not been the same player (see Liverpool way) – sluggish, unfit and clearly lacking confidence, physically, he seems to have lost his way, his recent displays have been a far cry from the strong and domineering midfielder we saw at the start of the season.

Taken his eye off the ball since a permanent deal was awarded?

Amongst all this, Newcastle signed Merino permanently for a small fee of £7m. This now looks like excellent business for Newcastle, whether he stays in the summer or not. H either stays and Newcastle have a great prospect on their books or if he does leave, we can expect to at least double our money. After arriving on loan initially, Merino looked hungry and eager to impress after being on the fringes a Dortmund. It may be an unfair claim to level at the 21 year old but it may be that winning a permanent move, combined with transfer speculation, he took his eye off the ball.

Simply a young player taking time to settle?

It is also worth remembering that Merino is just 21 and it is quite common for young players, who are new to the Premier League, to take time to settle. This can either happen by being phased into the team until they get to grips with a new league; especially one as physical and quick as the Premier League. There are also countless examples of players who have started brilliantly then drifted, or even then suffered from ‘second season syndrome’.

Merino is not the first and won’t be the last young player to have dips in form, it is all part of improving and developing some constancy. I still think he has the ingredients to be a top player and taking time to settle isn’t a concern, especially as we are already safe. The bigger threat he faces is being the right side of Benitez, as reading between the lines it looks like he has fallen out of favour.

Rafa has proven he knows best on more than one occasion this season;  from demanding we need a new keeper, chasing Kenedy for so long, sticking with Diame and underling the importance of Dummett.  If Rafa stays as we hope he does, Merino needs to knuckle down, ignore off field matters and get back to the fine form we all know he is capable of producing.

What’s your take on Merino and his first season at Newcastle?

About Simon Riddlesden

Lifelong Newcastle United fan and East Stand season ticket holder. Observations from a supporter who has followed NUFC during Champions League participation and through relegation, taking me from Milan to Scunthorpe.

69 thoughts on “The mystery of Mikel Merino – From midfield maestro to missing out on matchday squads

  1. The lad looked a class act before his back injury. There’s a lot of speculation in this article but I believe the answer is really simple. Mo Diame has blown everyone away with his all action displays. He’s now probably the first name on Rafa’s teamsheet. Amazing transformation and probably Rafa fearing a loss of steam late in games has seen Hayden on the bench with his defensive game instead of Merino.
    He’ll come again and if Shelvey got a knock it would be Merino stepping in.

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  2. Simon , I think it’s all of the above but mainly his back. Back trouble is a devil to fix, it impacts on your whole body. It was a bad back that cause my meniscal tears in my knee because my balance and gait were out of kilter. I suspect that’s been going on with Merino, his balance and technique will all be affected until his back is fully healed. Because you feel the back and the fear of it ‘going proper’ again, it makes you sluggish in all your movements.
    Let’s see how he is after pre season and hopefully some more physio and training.

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  3. Oh, The Humility! Big Fat Sam reckons on a score of 1-10 he is 11 at Everton. With anybody else you would think he was making a joke, a bit of self deprecating humour. Not with BFS though, he means it.

    Merse has predicted a win though. I was getting a bit confident before that. I looked at his predictions last week and he got 9 out of 10 wrong.

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  4. I remember watching him when everyone was raving about him. He had obvious class but when the team struggled his head dropped and he put zero effort in, making everybody’s job a lot harder. I can’t respect that attitude. Appreciate he has been injured of kate but this was before the injury. Has a lot of growing up to do before I can rate him.

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  5. Shamrock:
    I remember watching him when everyone was raving about him. He had obvious class but when the team struggled his head dropped and he put zero effort in, making everybody’s job a lot harder. I can’t respect that attitude. Appreciate he has been injured of kate but this was before the injury. Has a lot of growing up to do before I can rate him.

    Who is kate and why did she injure him? I have the same problems as you with autocorrect. I have a new phone as well so the ls and the ks sometimes cross pollinate.

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  6. My only worry is that BFS will select Tosun who is a very good player. Please select Rooney instead

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  7. Southampton are done now. I keep seeing they have a really good team, on paper. NO THEY DON’T. They have a really bad team on paper and on the field. And a really bad Manager. The trifecta of bad. They had Pards once before, and ‘Arry.

    How about a dream team of Pards, Ugly John and ‘Arry next year?

    Duckin’ and Divin’, Wheelin’ and Dealin’.

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  8. That Saints result was about the best it could be for us… they cannot catch us due to our vastly superior goal difference, they can only get a max of 12 points putting them still behind us, and Leicester only got 1 point putting them easily within reach making 8th realistic for us… in fact, I think if…. if… if…. Burnley Leicester and Everton lose all their remaining games and we win… 7th is possible????? …. ok, maybe not! Lol

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  9. PremAndUp:
    If we win all ours we can get ahead of Arsenal and 6th if results go our wat

    If we are going to dream, I guess we may as well dream big… ?

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  10. Prem: I think Rafa is the obvious choice for Arsenal but the bookies have a lot ahead of him. Even the narcissist Brendan Rodgers. Others include Ancelotti, Low, Tuchel, Viera, Allegri. You sort of know they are going to piss about though and not get it sorted until the end of the season at the earliest, maybe after the World Cup.

    Big Fat Sam should be available as he has asked for assurances about his job after that survey. Hopefully Monday will help send him a step closer to his Villa. But somebody will hire him next year if they are dragged into a relegation fight.

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  11. Southgate is going to the Everton/NUFC game. Mustn’t have been able to get a tee time on Monday? I am guessing he is going to watch Pickford.

    Hart has the most mistakes leading to goals this season and he has only played half the games. He will probably still go to the world cup for his “leadership qualities” which include jumping up and down and yelling a lot in the tunnel pre-game. And Moyes got a contract extension. He has 26 points from 23 games. Football makes no sense.

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  12. I think this year is the daftest.

    Moyes gets an extension.

    Big Fat Sam goes to Everton where there were obviously going to be comparisons with Klopp’s team. Have they watched any football in that boardroom for the past 20 years? Every clubs’ supporters bar the Mackems wanted him out because of his stultifying football, not to mention that he is an arrogant prick. Mourinho without the trophies.

    Lambert to Stoke? Erm?

    Hughes to Southampton. The only Manager to throw his players under the bus more than BFS.

    Wenger getting a 2 year extension and then playing Jack Wilshere.

    And, of course, the big one. Pards and Ugly John.

    Swansea’s was a strange choice as well even though it seems to have worked out. For now!!!

    Football is an alternative universe. So, England for the World Cup then 🙂 The late departed Troy Stavers predicted England would win the last Euros but then again, he also put forward Lee Clark for NUFC Manager. Sacked by Bury.

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  13. well guess its bye bye Rafa then,he wants to take the club to next level which means spending a bit of money to do that,and get in top 8 and try to win a cup,no way jabba will spend enough money to do that,most he will get is money he gets from selling players,he made 40 mil profit on sales in the ccc and got 19mil back for the PL,so guess he will leave and nobody can blame him

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  14. I think Merino is still a young lad settling at a new club, it can’t be easy but the lad has talent. I think given time he could come good but if his desire is to return to Spain and there is a club ready to buy him the so be it.
    His biggest problem has been a huge surge in form from both Shelvey and Diame. Shelvey we know has the ability, he’s just got to have his head right – at the mo it is and let’s hope it lasts coz he’s still young enough to have a great career.
    But Diame, Diame I have HUGE respect for. The lad was getting booed off just months ago – and he wasn’t playing well. But since those boos he seems a new player. He could easily have fell away and hid, but massive credit to him, he dug in and is now a really important player for us – congrats young man ?.
    He or Perez for most improved player of the season I reckon.

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  15. Not sure I agree Ice
    Ashley is onto a good thing at NUFC. Free Advertising, £350m asset.
    If he has any sense he will take it off the market, or pout the price up significantly. Give Rafa a 5% shareholding and say you run it don’t bother me.
    Rafa might well take the absolute control.

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  16. I really don’t think it is bye bye Rafa personally. I know everyone’s concerns about Ashley, and he’s been a **** – but he has also backed managers.
    He handed Pardew an 8yr contract. He handed McClaren a decent little transfer kitty – and let’s not forget that it was Ashley who signed off on getting Rafa in to start with.

    If we listen to what Rafa is saying, he knows it isn’t going to be instant overnight success with Newcastle – he’d have known that when he took the job. He’s looking at the ‘project’ as he calls it. He’s saying he’d happily stay 10yrs if things were right – and I believe him. Let’s be right, if he wanted away he’d have good reason long before now!!.

    I think Ashley knows that with Rafa at the helm, the clubs footballing needs are met – competing for places in the PL and cup runs (which keeps the fans happy), but his business needs will also be met – in that we become that secure advertising board televised around the world (keeping him and his money men happy).

    I don’t see Rafa off to Arsenal coz I reckon Wenger will move up and still have a say – That won’t suit Rafa. It would probably work for someone like Viera who would benefit from that mentoring though.

    A buy out would be my preferred option, but if not, I do see it being able to work with Ashley and Rafa. But I’m more hopeful based on his past with other managers than confident – it’s still Ashley afterall.

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  17. PremAndUp:
    Not sure I agree Ice
    Ashley is onto a good thing at NUFC. Free Advertising, £350m asset.
    If he has any sense he will take it off the market, or pout the price up significantly. Give Rafa a 5% shareholding and say you run it don’t bother me.
    Rafa might well take the absolute control.

    Prem: maybe you didn’t read it but I said exactly the same thing a couple of weeks ago. I have ranted about these idiot finance professors saying NUFC is worth 225 million for a while.

    The only change is Arsenal because Rafa would be mad to pass that opportunity up because he would have total control there as well.

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  18. At the risk of repeating myself, AGAIN 🙂

    1. Stevely is a chancer and hung out with known arms dealers like Prince Andrew. She might be better than Ashley, but I am not so sure.

    2. Ashley basically gave the club to Charnley and Carr who took it with both hands. THEY spent the money that was in the coffers but chose the wrong Manager(s). Ugly John and Schteve. The players they got were OK just craply managed.

    3. Rafa contacted NUFC about the job and Charnley was desperate after his failed power grab.

    4. It is RafaNUFC now as long as Ashley sticks to his word and gives him the money generated. Fatty is very strange bird though. In the past he has stuck to his word – the Carr and Charnley regime – but has also screwed Keegan, Shearer and Hughton so you never know what he will do next.

    5. RafaArsenal would be a good move for Rafa.

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  19. Olly: The Gambling Times!!! We already have Joselu, do we want another one? Maybe we should sign Fellaini? Why would we want Eric Chumbawamba who has 5 goals in 30 games? Just keep Joselu who is not that bad apart from the fact he has fluffed his lines in front of goal. He might do a Ayoze Perez though.

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  20. Got to hope Ashley recognises the changing dynamic due to benitez’s credibility.

    Unlike McLaren, pardumdum etc, Benitez can legitimately walk from Newcastle and into a decent job.

    So when Benitez calls out Ashley, the latter has a choice of give him enough to be satisfied the project can develop.. or risk losing it.

    I just can’t decide which way the Fatone will jump and a lot of points for both views make hypothetical sense.

    Sun’s shining.. time for beer?

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  21. Don’t trust Ashley to ever do the right thing. Just when we are looking secure and no dramas he’ll manage to create one.

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  22. Good News! Looks like Luis Enrique for Arsenal.

    If I was Rafa, Arsenal are the only British Club I would leave for. West Ham and Everton are sideways moves, so what’s the point.

    I agree with Icedog, Kimtoon and Sharpy that we are stuck with The Fatman so Rafa better sit down with him and sort out a new contract with some iron clad guarantees about spending.

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  23. Mitro scores again. This is looking more and more likely that he will score the goal that sends the Mackems into oblivion. That would be karma for the flyover of SJP and we wouldn’t even have to buy a banner and hire a pilot.

    Hoping for a Sunderland draw to prolong their misery because they are not beating Fulham in their 2nd to last game. They can even win tomorrow and they are still knacked as long as Fulham or Wolves get a point from them. 1st and 2nd teams to play in the last 2 games 🙂 They’re going to have to invent a new emoji – a sad face wearing a Mackem shirt (which could also be used for Stoke and Southampton).

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  24. On paper Everton have a decent team. I wonder if they have just given up because they are sick of Allardyce? This is the starters against Swans last week.

    Pickford
    Baines
    Keane
    Jagielka
    Coleman
    Gueye
    Calvert-Lewin
    Potato
    Walcott
    Tosun.

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  25. Dubai Toon:
    So the mackems lose again… only saved the guaranteed drop by Bolton losing today …

    DT they’re doon mate. Mathematically certain because Burton and Bolton play each other next week.

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  26. It seems I’m wrong and mackems confirmed as relegated… they have a better goal difference than Bolton which I thought might mean it wasn’t confirmed.

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  27. Eric Sykes: DT they’re doon mate. Mathematically certain because Burton and Bolton play each other next week.

    Ah okay, I didn’t realise that. Oh dear… ????

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  28. I was hoping for Mitro to send them down but Oh Well…

    This is a disaster. I think Ellis Short will walk now.

    Darren Bent (ex-Mackem) scored the equalizer. Then Sunderland hit the bar and had a “goal” disallowed for handball. It really was like a black comedy and I think there were about 10,000 supporters turned up. Guardian live feed shows a picture of Coleman with those faded red seats behind him and hardly anybody in them. It is an image that is a metaphor for their season and probably their future.

    Administration here they come.

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  29. Do you think they will want to open the cash turnstiles now for the Wolves game? They need all of the money they can get and I am sure there will be no trouble if 2,000 Mags turn up because there will be no Mackems there anyway.

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  30. You know. Around Christmas it wasn’t looking that great. I think we had taken 1 point from like 27 and had the worst home losing run since the ’50’s. Mackems had a new Manager, half a season and… hope. I think they were probably having a whip ’round to order another banner and plane.

    I really think they are heading for administration but it is very hard to feel sorry for them, considering…

    It’s the hope that kills you 🙂

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  31. So that’s Spurs screwed then. I have no malice towards them but their players will want to leave now. They can literally double their money like Walker did. Rose and Alderwiedereld want out so how long before Kane, Alli, Erikson and Son?

    Any money that comes in will go to pay of the stadium. I really can’t understand how the economics of paying a billion pounds for a stadium works. When I look at it it means they can’t afford to pay the going rate of a top 4 side for their players so their main assets will leave.

    Levy is smart but I think he might have outsmarted himself this time.

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  32. Eric Sykes:
    You know. Around Christmas it wasn’t looking that great. I think we had taken 1 point from like 27 and had the worst home losing run since the ’50’s.Mackems had a new Manager, half a season and… hope. I think they were probably having a whip ’round to order another banner and plane.

    I really think they are heading for administration but it is very hard to feel sorry for them, considering…

    It’s the hope that kills you

    Eric Sykes:
    You know. Around Christmas it wasn’t looking that great. I think we had taken 1 point from like 27 and had the worst home losing run since the ’50’s.Mackems had a new Manager, half a season and… hope. I think they were probably having a whip ’round to order another banner and plane.

    I really think they are heading for administration but it is very hard to feel sorry for them, considering…

    It’s the hope that kills you

    Eric Sykes:
    You know. Around Christmas it wasn’t looking that great. I think we had taken 1 point from like 27 and had the worst home losing run since the ’50’s.Mackems had a new Manager, half a season and… hope. I think they were probably having a whip ’round to order another banner and plane.

    I really think they are heading for administration but it is very hard to feel sorry for them, considering…

    It’s the hope that kills you

    Don’t woory give them two yr. and they will be playing the Heed

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  33. Time for some facts 🙂 Sunderland will make 1.5 million in TV money next year. That’s 2 million less than they have to pay Rodwell. NUFC will make about 120 million in TV money this year and about the same next year. Just think about that. 240 million over 2 years as opposed to about 7 million (because you get about 5 in the Championship).

    The Mackems have one saving grace in that they are still due the parachute payments which are about 33 million next year and I think a little under 30 the year after, then nowt. The problem is that their wage bill was 35 million this year and that was after shifting everybody off it that they could. Nobody wants their crap players so they will still have a high wage bill eating up most of the parachute payments. Some players are out of contract which will help but I keep seeing in The Chronicle comments that they should just get rid of the high earners to save money. It doesn’t work like that. You still have to pay them even if they don’t play. Again, see the Rodwell situation.

    Let’s move to gate receipts. I wonder how many will renew? Not many if you judge by recent attendances and they were even bolstered by 1 pound match day ticket sales. My guess is they will be lucky to get about 8 million.

    The average revenue for a League 1 side is about 6 million. Of course the Mackems get 2 years of parachute payments which will do what it is supposed to and pay the overinflated wages. What happens after that? There is no way that Short is putting his hand in his pocket and there is no way a bank would lend them money. If they had an overdraft facility, my guess is it is tapped out.

    They really are screwed, I just can’t see how they avoid administration.

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  34. I know some of the players had relegation clauses but some didn’t. And they will be only 2 years removed from the PL where they all spent money like it was going out of fashion. It will be really funny watching them turn up for training driving their Bentleys and wearing their Hublot watches.

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  35. Icedog:
    KIM that must have been some game 5-5

    Yep, City have forgotten how to defend mate, mental game, I could hear cheers every 5 mins outside my house.

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  36. great to see Zaha booked for diving,for the forth time,looks like hes been sussed and about bloody time

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  37. I have seen on quite a few websites that Rafa has defended Big Fat Sam over the Everton survey asking fans to rate BFS on a scale of 1 to 10. No he didn’t, he just said it was a bad idea from the Marketing Dept. That is not defending BFS at all and I actually think Rafa really does not like him.

    I really hope we beat them. I don’t mind Everton, I am not even bothered about Rooney, that is more about his media Pals always defending him when it was clear he had declined a lot starting 5 or 6 years ago. But I do dislike the fat smug oaf.

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  38. Yep Rodwell was the only player without a relegation clause, every Sunderland player has had to accept a 40% paycut bar him ! who ever did that deal needs a good slap. Maybe it was the only way he’d sign up but that was a poor deal from Scums point of view .
    You have to feel for them a bit, I would hate Toon to be in that situation, it’s also crap for NE football in general.
    At least we are not flying banners.

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  39. Kimtoon: I saw a number of 35 million a couple of weeks ago for the Mackem payroll and that was AFTER the 40% cuts and whoever they were able to shift. It makes sense as they were probably paying about 70 million in the PL. Off the top of my head I think our payroll is about 80 or 90 million.

    That bunch of shirkers will still be on good money and I just don’t see them being able to sell many and as Jack Rodwell has shown they will just see out their contracts. I do think there are several contracts expiring, but the flipside of that is that you are losing players and means the academy lads have to step up.

    One of the papers has to do an analysis in the next few weeks. I mean, that’s their job, they should be telling us the trouble the Mackems really are in.

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  40. I read that article yesterday about Kenedy, Willian and Luiz opening a new restaurant. Very interesting especially the Kenedy story. The kid from the favela. Mourinho used to call him favela. He’d never played (he had no boots) on anything but gravel til he was 16. Then it was sand that he loved in Rio. Now he loves snow! He’s very shy and humble but loves it in Newcastle. It was in the Mail of all places.

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  41. Neville is saying that goal was not Joe Hart’s fault. They always go out of their way to defend their favourites. Now he is beaten at the near post albeit with a deflection. There have to be questions, it is like Rooney when it didn’t matter how crap he played he had his cheerleaders on the pundits couch.

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  42. That looks like it for Stoke. 29 points and a terrible GD.

    Liverpool away
    Palace home
    Swansea away

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  43. Hart is bloody awful, not sure how West Ham managed to cave in so spectacularly there like, they were looking ok for a long while. 😕 stuck on 35

    Baggies and you would think Stoke gone due to extra game played, then one other from

    Crystal Palace
    35

    West Ham
    35

    Huddersfield
    35

    Swansea City
    33

    Southampton
    29

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  44. I suppose Hoots lads could get dragged into it as their run in is horrible, though unlikely .

    Toon have 2 games in hand on the two below us Watford and Bournemouth both on 38 and a game in hand on the two above us Leicester and Everton.

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  45. The three on 35 know one win will probably be enough or at least get the pressure off a bit. Question is who can hold their nerve, West Ham totally caved in there like.

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  46. How many times have the three promoted teams stayed up and three established PL sides dropped ? it can’t of happened very often if at all.

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  47. Very happy to see that we are clear of the scrap now. So many teams still sweating it. It really could be any of them…

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  48. Sorry to bang on about the Mackems but finally someone did an article showing their finances. BBC reports they have a 70 million bank debt with 8 million in annual interest. There is a 2 year repayment clause so that eats up all of the parachute payments. They really are a dead man walking. It will take a miracle and I think administration is now a 12 point deduction.

    https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/43784572

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