What Value Could Mikel Merino Add to Dortmund?

Unless you’ve been living under your boots, you’ve probably noticed that Borussia Dortmund have officially singed Spanish Under-19 International Mikel Merino from CA Osasuna on a pre-contract.

The 19-year-old has agreed to join Dortmund from CA Osasuna on a five-year deal in the summer and was quick to express his delight at being afforded the opportunity to take the next step in his professional career. “I feel honoured that I’ll soon be able to play for Dortmund, a club that has a special way of playing football,” explained Merino, whose father Angel, a former professional himself, oversaw his son’s development as part of the coaching staff in Osasuna’s youth set-up.

After signing no players in the January transfer window, which might have frustrated BVB Fans, the acquisition of Mikel Merino will feel like fresh air. It was clearly visible that Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund were on a clear scouting mission in Spain, as the club was linked with other promising Spanish youngsters like Oliver Torres, Ruben Rochina.

Indeed, Spain doesn’t have a shortage of highly talented midfielders with promising futures. And this Spanish youth International is no different.

Born in Pamplona, in the autonomous country of Navarre, Merino started his youth career at CD Amigó, and later moved to CA Osasuna, where he made his senior debuts with the reserves in 2013-14 season in Tercera División. It wasn’t too long before he made his first competitive appearance with the first team (21 December 2014), starting in a 2:0 home win against FC Barcelona B. Mikel Merino was quickly promoted to the first team on a permanent basis just a month later as he helped his side narrowly avoid relegation.

In Spain, Merino is compared to Raúl García, the former Atlético star, who was also a graduate of the Pamplona youth. García learned his trade in Pamplona and then went on to be a key player for Atlético Madrid; now it remains to be seen whether his ten years younger counterpart can succeed him or not.

The 18 year old midfielder is blessed with immense vision and passing skills, especially long medium-length balls. As you would expect from any Spanish talent, Merino can explore and enjoy opponent spaces by driving actions without being particularly explosive in moving.

So far, Merino’s numbers speak for themselves. At 18 years, Merino has already notched up as many as 51 competitive games for Osasuna and was directly involved in six goals during this period. And already a Spanish under-19 International, he has also won the Euro 2015 Under-19 championship, scoring the first goal of the tournament for Spain.

Moreover, Merino has the ability to shoot from distance. However, there is a room for improvement in terms of his power and precision.

Defensively, Merino has strong physical presence in the air, and his ability in duels are very good as well. He has a 72% success on aerial duels, according to the official Liga website, thanks in part to his 1.88m frame. Merino is sufficiently competent at intercepting balls, disarming opponents, and using tackles only when necessary.

Heatmap of Merino's customary positioning.
Heatmap of Merino’s customary positioning.

Merino is more comfortable in a double-pivot system, often used by Thomas Tuchel except for the fact that BVB changes to a 4-1-4-1 shape seamlessly within the game. Merino functions as a number “8” on the field.

The 18 year old is also characterized by outstanding qualities ball winning. For Osasuna, he is more focused on winning the ball the back as you soon as you lose it associating with lighting fast switching. Therefore, Merino can be a good presser of the ball.

Physically, Merino is 6 ft 2 inches tall, but his balance often seems a bit off, but he seems to have ample stamina in lasting the whole 90 minutes.

Finally, he has been called up 22 times in the Segunda División this season only being substituted once and appearing twice as a substitute.

It is more difficult to say, however, what plans Thomas Tuchel has with his new player. Perhaps Merino is being brought in to act as a Number Six, but this seems unlikely, because, as stated earlier, Merino has played more like a Number Eight – and the youngster clearly shines in the offensive work, at least for Osasuna. Again, Merino is characterized by excellent passing abilities, e.g. his creative through balls. He’s more or less reminiscent of Ilkay Gündogan. But it would not be fair to say that Merino is the designated successor for Gündogan. The later’s passing is more accurate, dribbling ability, and vision superior. Besides, Gündogan is a proven talent with gameplay on a much higher level compared to Merino.

Another factor Tuchel will consider is that Merino is left-footed. Except for Nuri Sahin, whose comeback is still awaited, Dortmund’s other midfielders are right-footed. For playmaking, therefore, an additional left footer will be useful. Overall, Mikel Merino’s gameplay has so far impressed BVB and Tuchel; there is no doubt that he is a hot Spanish talent.

Yet a small question mark still remains about how to integrate the youngster.

Would he be able to make the cut from a 19,800 seater El Sadar Stadium of a second division CA Osasuna to 81,359 seated Westfalenstadion, home of one of the biggest football teams in the world?

Time will tell!

(Header image from BVB.de)

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Bundesliga connoisseur and writer at Bundesliga Fanatic. Also a Bundesliga correspondent for The4thOfficial. In love with the Bundesliga since birth. Big fan of TwentyOnePilots and basically every other teen stuff(Star Wars not included). Still waiting for my man Milos Raonic to win a Grand Slam. Come to my house and we will watch Netflix and eat Nutella. lol just kidding. Follow me on Twitter @CoverShadow09