Rafa Benitez can see shades of Xabi Alonso in Newcastle’s Mikel Merino

Mikel Merino
Mikel Merino

Rafa Benitez says he can see similarities between Newcastle United midfielder Mikel Merino and Xabi Alonso.

Merino, signed from Borussia Dortmund last month, was outstanding in Saturday’s 3-0 win over West Ham United.

Benitez brought Alonso to England in 2004 and helped him realise his potential at Liverpool.

Merino is having to quickly adjust to the pace of the Premier League, having been pitched in after Jonjo Shelvey was dismissed in the club’s opening fixture.

Asked about Merino’s adjustment to the division, Benitez said: “There’ve been a couple of situations (where the pace has caught him out), but he’s very dynamic. He’s always moving.

“It’s a question of understanding the game here. He has natural composure on the ball. “

They are similar because of the position they are in and the way they read the game. Alonso’s long passing was better, but Merino is more mobile and more dynamic.

Rafa Benitez

On comparisons with former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder Alonso – who brought an end to his glittering career this summer – Benitez added: “Yes, there are similarities.

“I will tell you, though it maybe sounds stupid, that they are both from the Basque Country.

“They are similar, because of the position they are in and the way they read the game.

“Alonso’s long passing was better, but Merino is more mobile and more dynamic.”

Isaac Hayden, Merino’s midfield partner, also impressed against West Ham.

“Isaac is working hard to improve as well,” said Benitez.

“One of the main things you try and teach them is their understanding of the game – to have the compassion and commitment to know what to do in every situation.

“The gameplan was to work very hard and in two or three things they were crucial in that. The plan was to stop West Ham doing their job, and they did that very well.”

Shelvey, having served his three-match ban, will be available for the September 10 game against his former club Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.