Mikel Merino is ready to return to the Premier League fray – and give his all for Newcastle United.
Rafa Benitez is sweating on the fitness of Jonjo Shelvey for tomorrow’s game against Liverpool at Anfield.
You win two games and you are up, you lose two games and you are down. We know it. We have to be focused on our goal. We have to play each match like it’s the last and give 100%.Mikel Merino
Shelvey suffered a knee injury in last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.
The midfielder is being assessed ahead of the televised game against third-placed Liverpool.
Merino, signed from Borussia Dortmund on a permanent deal early this season, was an unused substitute against Bournemouth.
And the 21-year-old – who is fully fit after recovering from the back injury which sidelined him in the first half of the campaign – is on standby to return to the starting XI at Anfield.
Merino had to quickly adjust to the physicality, intensity and competitiveness of the Premier League.
Just a handful of points separate the bulk of the teams in the bottom half of the table.
Newcastle are 15th in the division – and just two points above the relegation zone – ahead of their visit to Anfield.
“This league is like this,” said the Spain Under-21 international.
“There are a lot of teams in the bottom.
“You win two games and you are up, you lose two games and you are down.
“We know it. We have to be focused on our goal. We have to play each match like it’s the last and give 100%.
“We know that’s the way to win matches. You can give 100% and lose the match.
“That’s football. It’s not a maths exam.
“You cannot predict what’s going to happen. If you give your 100%, I’m sure, at the end of the season, we will be in a good position.”
Merino’s adjustment to English football – and life on Tyneside – has been helped by his Spanish countrymen Ayoze Perez, Joselu and Javier Manquillo.
“It’s great to have these team-mates,” said the Pamplona-born player.
“You’re always good with your team-mates, it doesn’t matter about the nationality, but it’s normal that with your team-mates from the same country that you’re even closer.
“They’re brilliant guys. I always have a good time with them in training and, for example, on New Year’s Eve.
“It brings us closer. I’m enjoying my time with them.”
Merino misses Spanish delicacies, though his family bring him food parcels when they visit.
“I ask my mother, every time she comes to Newcastle, to bring some food, some jam or things like that,” said Merino. “(But) the food here is not that bad!”
Meanwhile, Sadio Mane believes Liverpool’s power lies in their team ethic – and thinks any player would want to be part of Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
Just one defeat in their last 19 Premier League matches has lifted the side into a position to challenge Manchester United for second place, while they are virtually guaranteed a Champions League quarter-final place with a 5-0 first-leg lead over Porto.
Klopp’s side have scored 103 goals in all competitions this season, with their forward line of Mane, 31-goal Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino scoring for fun.
“The team spirit is good, and the confidence is here, so I think we’re in a good way,” Mane told Liverpool’s official matchday programme.
“Every single player’s always very happy playing with each other. We always try to help each other and we work as a team.
“I think that is the team’s power and the team’s purpose. Every single player would love to play in this team.
“We’re lucky boys, and we are going to keep trying to work hard and give our best when we take our places on the pitch to continue to try and win the games.
“I can sense that the club is moving in the right direction.
“There were a couple of difficult years at Liverpool a while back, but those things happen to every single club in the world.
“At the moment, we’re in a good way so everything is possible. I think we have improved a lot in the past few months.
“We know that on our day we can beat any team in the world.”
Mane believes the arrival of club-record signing Virgil van Dijk – who became the world’s most expensive defender last month – has already made a difference.
“He’s a great player and I know him very well, because he was my team-mate when I was at Southampton too,” Mane added.