Mikel Merino has been struggling since picking up a back injury back in October, and it’s certainly a cause of concern that one of our best players at the start of the season is finding things difficult at the moment.
Rhythm is such a crucial thing for a modern footballer. Playing a number of games on the bounce builds your stamina, and helps you get into a good run of form. For one reason or another, the Spaniard has not been able to have that in recent months. He’s revealed that he has only recently been able to get back to full intensity in training.
I wasn`t one of the fans criticising the Spaniard for his performance against Liverpool last weekend. It was his first start since the 1-1 draw against Burnley over a month ago, and there was likely to be some ring rustiness. However, we are now just two points above the drop zone after the defeat to the Reds, and we can`t afford to have passengers heading into such a crucial stage of the season.
Rafa has a difficult decision to make here. The 21 year old did superbly well to adapt quickly to the Premier League during the early weeks of the season, and he was integral in the team picking up vital points in the opening nine fixtures. However, can the manager wait for him to find his form again now?
It may take a number of starts for him to regain his early season levels, and he will no doubt be a tremendous asset in the future, but we have crucial matches against Southampton and Huddersfield coming up. If our £7m signing is not at his best, the team could suffer in these crucial six pointers.
At the same time though, if he can find his best game during these vital fixtures, he could be the difference between winning and drawing. It would be a calculated gamble, and although his recent form may be a concern to sum extent, I believe we should begin to see the best of him relatively quickly if he is given more minutes on the pitch. I hope the gaffer keeps faith in him for now.