Newcastle must expect Athletic Bilbao to return for Mikel Merino

Newcastle player Mikel Merino in action during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St. James Park on September 16, 2017 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Athletic Bilbao were linked with a move for Newcastle United's Mikel Merino.

Newcastle player Mikel Merino in action during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St. James Park on September 16, 2017 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Most of the reaction from Newcastle's January transfer window surrounded their three late loan signings, but Rafael Benitez's men will also be pleased to have kept hold of Mikel Merino.

The Magpies brought in Martin Dubravka, Kenedy and Islam Slimani on loan from Sparta Prague, Chelsea and Leicester City respectively to boost their Premier League survival hopes, whilst Benitez suffered no major losses either.

One player linked with a move away from St. James' Park was Spanish midfielder Mikel Merino, with Marca strongly reporting that Athletic Bilbao wanted to lure him back to Spain, only for Benitez to stand in the way.

Mikel Merino of Newcastle United applauds the crowd as he leaves the pitch during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Newcastle United and Luton Town at St James' Park on January...

Merino, 21, joined Newcastle on loan from Borussia Dortmund over the summer, and made his move to Tyneside permanent back in October, with The Chronicle reporting that the fee involved was £7million.

The holding midfielder has been hot-and-cold this season, and is yet to really nail down a key role under Benitez given the midfield rotation this term, but looks to be an important player for the future having shown flashes of his potential.

Keeping hold of him beyond January was a positive for Newcastle, but they shouldn't rest easy just yet, as Athletic Bilbao's transfer policy suggests that they will be back for the midfielder this summer.

Sead Kolasinac of Arsenal is challenged by Mikel Merino of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on December 16, 2017 in...

The La Liga side only sign Basque players, of which there are a limited number, and that means that once a target emerges, Athletic tend to pursue them for the long term due to the few alternatives available.

Merino fits that bill, given that Goal reported last summer that Athletic wanted to land Merino before his move to Newcastle, and the Magpies must brace themselves for more interest from Jose Angel Ziganda's side when the transfer window opens again.

Mikel Merino of Newcastle United arrives at the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Everton at St. James Park on December 13, 2017 in Newcastle upon Tyne,...

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