'If we just sit back we're not going to learn anything': Merrick's challenge for Newcastle

The Spanish region of Murcia is one of the nation’s most picturesque holiday spots, but there will be no vacation feel when the Newcastle Jets take on FC Cartagena tonight.

Speaking to the official Newcastle Jets website at the Pinatar Arena in south-eastern Spain, Merrick said the quest to go one further in the 2018/19 Hyundai A-League season is beginning to take shape.

“If we’re going to step up again from last year, [pre-season] has got to be very tough,” he said.

“Cartagena used to be a big team, they still have a big following and they just missed out on La Liga promotion in the play offs.

“But they’re building for the future so the quality and skill level will be very high.”

Having already completed phase one pre-season with matches against Chinese Super League opposition Beijing Goan and Shanghai Shenhua, plans are slowly coming into together for Merrick.

And while the 65-year-old was quick to praise the quality of tonight’s opponents, Merrick said the Jets will not be kneeling at the feet of their Spanish compatriots.

“It would be easy to just play a defensive game and just keep the goals down but we’re going to play very open football and work on possession skills, getting forward and see if we can cause some problems in the attacking third and make them chase us.

“If we just sit back we’re not going to learn anything.”

Newcastle’s Venezuelan playmaker Ronald Vargas could be set to feature for the Jets against Cartagena.

Vargas made a big impact for the 2017/18 runners up at the beginning of the season but suffered a horrible dislocated ankle injury against Brisbane Roar in October 2017.

It required the South American to undergo surgery, while he has recently had screws removed from his ankle.

“[Ronny’s] very healthy, he’s progressing well but he didn’t do too much in training today.

 “We want to take him slowly and don’t expect to use him too much.

“I hope to give him 15 minutes in the first game and a bit longer in the second and then we’ll take it from there.”

The Jets are still to play La Liga outfit Getafe CF on Wednesday – who finished 8th in Spain’s premier competition last season.

The tour will finish with a clash against Real Murcia, another outfit from the Segunda Division on Friday 3 August.

“I don’t know Lawrie McKinna keeps pulling it off but to have a pre-season training camp in a place like this is first class,” Merrick continued.

“The sun reminds me of my days in Scotland!”