Date: 1st April 2018 at 11:12am
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Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez has revealed that Mikel Merino’s shock absence from the squad against Huddersfield was because of his time away on international duty.

The Spaniard, who has been a mainstay of the senior side either among the starting XI or on the substitute’s bench, was nowhere to be seen as the Terriers visited St James’ Park, the Magpies picking up an important 1-0 win to climb closer to Premier League safety.

Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame both kept their places in the midfield and it was Isaac Hayden who got the nod for the bench, coming on as a second half substitute.

Now Benitez has confirmed that it was the depth of quality throughout the squad which kept Merino out of the side, and insisted that the 21-year-old’s absence was “really positive” looking forward.

He told the Chronicle: “When you have 18 who are training and players are coming back from international duty and they have not been around, you have to make a decision.

“We felt if we needed a midfielder, Hayden could be an option. Merino, to be fair, was also training well. The only thing is he was not around for some time.

“That’s really positive for us. They cannot say, ‘I will relax’ because someone else is pushing.

“That’s really good in any team.”

Newcastle’s next match sees them face off against Leicester City next weekend, knowing victory could put them 10 points clear of the drop zone with six games to play.

Football Insider verdict

Merino might be considered one of the most talented players at the club but it shows off Benitez’s attention to detail that he was not included in the squad. He would have been working on his game plan to try and beat Huddersfield for the past three weeks, and having the players at his disposal on the training ground means he can drill that into them. Missing the drills certainly puts you at a disadvantage and it cost Merino his place. Still, he will have few complaints having been playing for Spain’s under-21 side, and he will continue to work hard to break back into the first team.

In other Newcastle United transfer news, the Magpies are eyeing up an 11-goal star to fill a problem position.

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