Newcastle United’s Mikel Merino has admitted that he’s still not 100% fit.
The midfielder was sidelined for more than a month with a back problem late last year.
And Merino, an unused substitute against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium at the weekend, is still troubled by his back, though he’s improving week by week.
Asked if he was fully fit, Merino said: “I had a lot of problems during the season with small injuries.
“The back injury, which I still have a little bit, is improving.
“I feel much better. I’m almost at 100% physically. I’m feeling good in training.
Sometimes it’s hard to play with these kind of injuries, because you feel like you can do 100%, but you’re doing 50%, and nobody knows it. It’s hard, but you have to carry on.Mikel Merino
“I feel I’m at a good level. I’m happy to see myself play with my team-mates and my level in training.
“Yes, I hope in a few weeks I don’t have any problems and will be 100%.”
Merino, preparing for Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Chelsea, says the back injury is the “worst” he’s had in his career up to now.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries during my career,” said the Spain Under-21 international.
“The back, I think, is the worst one, because it affects a lot.
“You cannot turn. You cannot sprint. You cannot jump. These are the things you cannot do.
“Sometimes it’s hard to play with these kind of injuries, because you feel like you can do 100%, but you’re doing 50%, and nobody knows it.
“It’s hard, but you have to carry on.
“A lot of players play with injuries and it’s part of the sport. I deal with it.”
Merino, signed from Borussia Dortmund on a permanent deal early in the season, is being helped and encouraged by Benitez, his team-mates and the club’s staff.
“The manager and all the team-mates and the staff are always trying to help me by giving advice or giving encouragement,” said Merino.
“It helps to have a good environment.”
Merino is pushing for a recall to the starting XI for the fourth-round tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile, Paul Dummett believes he’s fully fit after playing in the club’s last six games.
The defender suffered a hamstring injury against Tottenham Hotspur on the opening weekend of the season.
Dummett returned to the team late last month and played 90 minutes against Premier League leaders City, who won 3-1 thanks to a hat-trick from Sergio Aguero.
“I’ve had a few games now to get my match sharpness back and get that confidence of sprinting back,” said the 26-year-old.
“I think that’s one of the main things for a hamstring injury, coming back and getting your confidence back to be playing and sprinting up and down the wing.
“It takes games for that to happen, so I need to try and work hard and make sure I stay fit and help the team for the rest of the season to make sure we pick up results to stay in the league.”