Rafa Benitez is mulling over a recall for Mikel Merino at Turf Moor – but not because of his first goal for Newcastle United.
Merino came off the bench to score a winner against Crystal Palace.
The technically-gifted midfielder, signed on a permanent deal from Borussia Dortmund earlier this month, has quickly adjusted to the demands of the Premier League.
But Merino has been named among the substitutes for the club’s past two games.
Newcastle take on Burnley tonight and Merino’s hoping for a recall to Benitez’s starting XI.
For his part, Benitez is looking for “balance” in his midfield.
Asked if Merino and Jonjo Shelvey can play together, Benitez said: “We played them together in one of the games (against Liverpool), but the problem I have now is that in one game (Isaac) Hayden scored, and in the other one Merino scored, so it’s quite difficult.
“You can’t decide your team because someone scored or someone played one good game. It’s just the understanding between the players, the way that they complement each other.
“They both give you something different. When we talk about Jonjo and Mikel, (they) can pass the ball. But they don’t have the legs of Hayden. So you need to find the balance.
“Some days will be important to have one or the other one, or maybe (Mohamed) Diame, who was training really well during the week.
You can’t decide your team because someone scored or someone played one good game. It’s just the understanding between the players, the way that they complement each other.Rafa Benitez
“It depends on each game, or the timing during the game. But can they play together? Yes. Is it a risk? No, it’s different. It depends on the game.”
Merino plays at No 10 for Spain’s Under-21s.
“I think this would be more in a 4-3-3 formation,” said United’s manager. “When I was talking with him at the beginning, I knew that he likes to play higher and go forward, and he scored two goals with Spain at the edge of the box.
“He can play there. But do we need to change something when everything is going well? Some people say ‘you always play the same system’. But the system changes a little bit.
“It depends on if we play home or away, or if the other team plays long or short. We change to 4-3-3. We change to five at the back in some games.
“We can manage different things. But if something’s going well, why would you change too much?”
Merino cost United around £8million.
“We knew that he was a good signing,” said Benitez.
“We knew that it was a good price. When you (the media) were asking me ‘are you nervous about Merino?’, I always said ‘stay calm’, because we knew that he was a great acquisition for us.
“Obviously, players need to settle down and they need time and they have to be consistent. He has all the attributes to do well and be a good signing and maybe a bargain.”