MIKEL MERINO could have ended up in his native Spain rather than on Tyneside if money had not been an issue, although the Newcastle United midfielder has been encouraged by his start at St James’ Park.

The Spanish midfielder, who will be playing for his country’s Under-21s during the international break, has settled in well to the Magpies midfield following his season-long loan move from Borussia Dortmund.

It is a temporary switch that could lead to a longer term deal if it suits all parties at the end of the season, but he could quite easily have ended up playing with Athletic Bilbao.

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The Basque club were forced to admit defeat in their pursuit of signing Merino on loan for the season because they were not in a position to pay what Newcastle could in terms of wages.

Bilbao’s loss has turned out to be Newcastle’s gain because he has slotted in seamlessly since replacing Jonjo Shelvey in the middle of Rafael Benitez’s side – and he impressed again against Liverpool on Sunday.

Newcastle recovered from falling behind to earn a point against the Reds, so Benitez’s side have not lost since August.

Merino said: “This means that this team has heart, a really good mentality and it doesn't matter if we're one down or one up, we have to keep fighting.

"We have believed about our possibilities - it doesn't matter if we are losing by one, we keep fighting and in the end we have our important point, our goal and this is how this team works. We have to keep going like this though.

"It was a tough game and everyone could see how good this team [Liverpool] is. I think we have done a great, great effort.

"All the match we were running, it was incredible how we run and work, all the supporters were behind us, we achieved an important point against a great team. We are happy about that but we know we need to keep working and doing what we are doing.”

Merino might only have been at St James’ Park a short amount of time but is already hugely appreciative of the noise levels inside the stadium.

The 21-year-old said: "The crowd was incredible. I'm used to it, so I'm not surprised because every time we play at home the crowd is at an incredible level.

"It helps us a lot and the team is really, really happy about that. What we want to do is to keep the mood and to keep the crowd going like this.”

Merino is due to travel to Slovakia for an Under-21s European Championship qualifier next week for the game on October 10.

He said: "Each time I go away with the national team I want to play good, I want to help my national team and to help them win.

"It's a different style of football but I have the same mentality: work hard and help my team. I will then come back and go again with Newcastle.”