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Midfield options can fill Merino void, says Rafa

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Rafa Benítez is optimistic Newcastle United have the strength in depth to cope with midfielder Mikel Merino’s back injury.

On Friday, Benitez confirmed that Merino – who notched the Magpies’ winner in their last home game, against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago – will sit out tomorrow’s visit of AFC Bournemouth.

He will also miss out on Spain Under-21s’ 2019 European Championship qualifiers against Iceland and Slovakia, with Newcastle’s medical staff set to monitor his progress over the international break.

Benítez is confident, though, that other players can make their presence felt in Merino’s absence, with the Magpies looking to sign off on a high note ahead of a two-week hiatus.

“Merino will be out for at least a couple of weeks. We will see how he is doing,” United’s boss said. “He will not go away with the national team and he will not be available for this game. We will have to wait and see how his lower back is. For a couple of weeks, he will be under treatment.

“(He took) a knock, I think against Liverpool, and he was feeling the pain the other day. We know he is not available so we have to concentrate on the other players, and I think it is fine. Last week, we had (Isaac) Hayden with a little problem, but for this game it is fine.

“We have four or five midfielders. We have (Mohamed) Diamé, (Henri) Saivet, Hayden and (Jonjo) Shelvey, and if we need anyone else, we can bring (Chancel) Mbemba in as a midfielder – he played there in the Africa Cup of Nations. I think we have enough bodies.”

Saturday’s opponents are now into their third campaign as a Premier League club, but the Cherries have found the going tough this time out, sitting just a place off the bottom ahead of the game.

The Magpies themselves head into the weekend on the back of a loss – beaten 1-0 at Burnley on Monday night – and Benítez called for his side to remain focused on seeing through their primary aim as they look to maintain their impressive form at St. James’ Park.

“Some people think we have to do this, we have to do that, but no – we have to be competitive, be sure we are good enough to stay in the Premier League and then build from that,” he said. “It is something that for me, from day one – when we were promoted – was the main thing – to be strong, to stay in the Premier League, and if we go higher, perfect. If we cannot, we have to be sure we are strong enough to stay in the division and continue building from there.”

“We have four or five midfielders. We have (Mohamed) Diamé, (Henri) Saivet, (Isaac) Hayden and (Jonjo) Shelvey, and if we need anyone else, we can bring (Chancel) Mbemba in as a midfielder – he played there in the Africa Cup of Nations. I think we have enough bodies.”

Rafa Benítez

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