Newcastle United midfielder Mikel Merino has confirmed that central counterpart Jonjo Shelvey is a major doubt for the club’s home clash against Southampton and that he himself is struggling after his own injury blow.

The 21-year-old Spaniard stepped up as the first choice replacement for the English maestro against Liverpool, after Shelvey was ruled out with a long-standing knee injury which flared up in the clash with Bournemouth.

It was the summer signing’s first appearance in three games, and his first start since the 1-1 draw with Burnley at the end of January, having been in and out of the side as he tried to recover from a back injury which has hampered him since October.

However he was unable to stop the Reds from scoring and securing a 2-0 victory, and he revealed that his lack of playing time through due to his layoff meant he struggled at Anfield.

He told the Chronicle: “I felt tired out there. When you are not playing regularly that is normal because minutes on the pitch give you energy.

“Jonjo Shelvey may be missing next week again so I have to be ready for that too. I need to take advantage of any opportunity I get.

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“I have recovered from my back injury, I have had other problems too but I now feel fit. I am training with high intensity and ready when the coach needs me.”

Merino has made 22 appearances across all competitions for the Magpies, scoring one goal and chipping in with an assists.

Football Insider verdict

Merino’s honest admission about his struggles will explain why he put in a sub-par performance against Liverpool but if he is not fully fit to return to first team action, then why did Benitez throw him into the deep end? Shelvey looks as though he will be missing once again against Southampton and in this situation, it is up to Merino to take on the mantle as the creative spark in the middle, leaving Mo Diame to do most of the dirty work. It must be a tough week on the training ground to make sure everyone is at 100 per cent in what will be a crunch clash in the relegation battle. 

In other Newcastle United news, the club must look to seal a deal for a red hot striker.

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