Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez has claimed that Mikel Merino is still happy to be at the club despite appearing to fall down the pecking order at St James' Park.
The 21-year-old was linked with a loan move to Real Betis during the January transfer window in an attempt to regain the early season form he showed that convinced Newcastle of making his loan move from Borussia Dortmund permanent.
Really, really happy for MIkel Merino. What an amazing, low-risk pick-up for Newcastle. I've turned into a Merino disciple this year.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) October 13, 2017
However, Merino remains at the club and Benitez believes that once the Spaniard regains his match fitness he will be able to claim a place in the Newcastle first-team.
"Yes [he is happy], that was clear at the beginning," Benitez said, as quoted by HITC. "It’s just a case of getting back to his perfect match fitness.
"That’s it. It’s taken some time. Now he must recover the match fitness by training and playing games."
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Merino, whose only goal in a Newcastle shirt proved to be decisive in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace earlier this season, could return to the Magpies squad this weekend when they face the daunting task of taking on Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The Osasuna academy graduate will be hoping to return to first-team football sooner rather than later to give himself an outside chance of making Julen Lopetegui's World Cup squad.