Mikel Merino on his readiness to deputise for Jonjo Shelvey – and Newcastle’s ‘incredible’ fans

Mikel Merino
Mikel Merino

Mikel Merino’s ready to make a timely full debut for Newcastle United – and ease the pain of Jonjo Shelvey’s absence.

Shelvey will miss the next three games through suspension following his dismissal in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

The midfielder was sent off for stamping on Dele Alli at St James’s Park when the score was still goalless.

Merino, signed from Borussia Dortmund last month on a season-long loan, came off the bench against Tottenham.

And the 21-year-old is in line to make his full league debut in Sunday’s televised game against Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium.

“What I have to focus on is being myself and trying to do everything I can to help the team,” said Merino.

“At the end, Rafa (Benitez) has to decide who’s playing.

“I think all the players are going the right way, pushing the team in the right direction.

“I think whoever plays will do great.”

Merino – who trained at St James’s Park yesterday with his team-mates in front of thousands of fans – believes he is ready for the physicality and intensity of Premier League football.

“When I was on the bench (against Tottenham), I was thinking about going on and trying to do my job,” said the Spain Under-21 international.

“I felt comfortable. I have been preparing for playing in the first division all my life. This was my opportunity.

“I want to take this match and improve from here. I’m really happy to have played my first match.”

Shelvey will also sit out the August 23 Carabao Cup tie against Nottingham Forest and the August 26 home league fixture against West Ham United.

The midfielder apologised to manager Rafa Benitez and his team-mates after the Tottenham game.

Merino is used to playing in front of sell-out crowds from his time at Dortmund.

However, the Pamplona-born player was still taken aback by the atmosphere” at his new home.

Merino added: “It was crazy all the people supporting the team and they way they sang and supported us.

“It was really, really good. It’s an extra thing for us. It’s an incredible plus for us.

“Every team that comes here to play will feel it.”

Merino is quickly learning about the demands of English football.

On the Premier League, he said: “It’s a top league where each week you can play against really big teams, like Tottenham.

“The rhythm, the way they ran and pressed ... you have to give 100%. If not, you will lose.”

Shelvey’s dismissal changed the game against Tottenham, who took control when Newcastle went down to 10 men.

And Merino believes he and his team-mates can take encouragement from their performance against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who finished second in the Premier League last season.

“It was a tough game,” said Merino.

“We’re not happy about the final result. I thought we competed really well.

“The team deserved at least a draw, but things didn’t go as we expected.

“They are a really good team, but we have to have the idea that we have worked really well. We have to keep working like this.

“We did an incredible effort in the first half and also in the second half with one man less.

“We did a really good job. We have to keep going. We are going the right way. If we keep working like this, things will come.”

A number of players were not involved in the open training session at St James’s Park.

Chancel Mbemba was unavailable because of a visa appointment, while DeAndre Yedlin is still sidelined through injury.

Out-of-favour Jack Colback, Massadio Haidara, Grant Hanley, Tim Krul, Achraf Lazaar and Emmanuel Riviere were not involved.

Benitez made up the numbers with Curtis Good and Macaulay Gillesphey, who spent last season on loan at Carlisle United.

Meanwhile, Newcastle’s players have undergone a series of concussion tests over the past few weeks.

Paul Catterson, the club’s head of medical services, said: “I think the clear benefits are that we’re being more scientific with our testing of the players.

“Player welfare is so important, and we are ready in case of any head injury during the season – and hopefully we can bring them back to play quicker as well.”