Newcastle United midfielder Mikel Merino endured a tough time back on his return to the starting XI as he and his team mates suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on Saturday.

The Magpies were comfortably beaten at Anfield as the Reds dominated possession, despite the efforts of the Spaniard and midfield counterpart Mohamed Diame to try and win the ball back for the visitors.

The summer signing would likely be the first to admit that he was not performing at 100 per cent on Merseyside, and when coupled with an off-day for the recently in form Diame, it meant that Liverpool made light work of dissecting their way through the centre of the park as they bore down on goal.

However, Merino, who quickly became a favourite with the Newcastle faithful for his early season displays, has not been performing at 100 per cent for some time, and it will start to be a serious concern for manager Rafael Benitez as the club enter a vital stretch of the season in terms of survival.

It all stems from a back problem suffered earlier in the campaign, a blow which forced the 21-year-old to sit out three games, and since then he has seen his influence wain in matches, resulting in him dropping to the bench for Jonjo Shelvey to return to the starting line up.

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However, the English midfielder is now out of action with a knee injury, and unfortunately for Benitez, the club do not know just how long he is going to be out of action for.

The mantle of creative playmaker should therefore fall at the feet of Merino, but with the form he is in, it looks as though the Magpies are in dire straits.

Newcastle need a player who can dictate the tempo of the game, who is going to feed the passes for the forwards and spread the ball around to cut the opposition defence apart.

Merino has shown he has the eye and the talent to do just that, but it is the execution that is lacking, and if Shelvey is out with a long-term blow, Merino’s sub-par performances could well be the difference between staying up and suffering relegation.

With the former Liverpool man a major doubt for the Southampton game at St James’ Park next weekend, the Spaniard must focus on ensuring he is in top shape both physically and mentally, for it could be a clash which determines either clubs’ survival.

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

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