Rafa Benitez has given a positive update on two of his players who withdrew from their international squads.

Ghana play away at Uganda in their penultimate World Cup qualifying match on Saturday but Christian Atsu won’t be there.

Rafa says that it is ‘discomfort in his knee’ that is the problem, rather than it being a calf injury as had been claimed elsewhere.

However, the United boss has indicated that Atsu should be ok for the away match at Southampton in nine days time, saying it a case of having to ‘manage it carefully’ rather than it being anything serious.

After winning only one of their first four group games, Ghana have given themselves a mountain to climb in terms of qualifying for Russia next summer. Even if Atsu had played and Ghana won tomorrow, they are still likely to be unable to qualify with a game to spare, if group leaders Egypt win their match this weekend at bottom of the table Congo.

The other player Rafa Benitez has talked about is Matt Ritchie.

The winger sat out last night’s crucial game against Slovakia, Scotland winning in the last minute with a Skrtel own goal after playing against 10 men for 67 minutes. This now gives them a favourite’s chance of reaching the play-offs, needing to beat Slovenia in their final match to ensure second place.

Once again Rafa indicates that he was left out as a precaution, Ritchie having ‘a little bit of discomfort’ and a case of ‘playing too many games’.

No doubt Rafa Benitez talked to Gordon Strachan on this one and checked as to whether how desperate he was to have the Newcastle winger in the squad.

A bit of a strange one because despite his excellent Newcastle form, Matt Ritchie has been almost totally sidelined by Scotland in the past year.

He last started a year ago in a 3-0 defeat at Slovakia, at which point qualification looked all but impossible.

Strachan shook things up and changed his team, Ritchie having now played only 32 minutes from the bench in the next six qualifiers.

However, after losing at Wembley, Scotland have then won four and drawn one (against England) of their last five, meaning Ritchie was never going to stand a chance of starting in their final two games.

Great news for Newcastle fans though, both wingers are set to be ok for Southampton and the international break has probably came at just the right time for them to have a little rest.

Rafa Benitez:

“Christian Atsu has a little bit of discomfort in his knee and we have to manage it carefully.

Matt Ritchie has been playing too many games.

“He was working very hard and he had a little bit of discomfort – a few little things that he was talking with the doctor.

“It was better that we didn’t take a risk.”



  • Wor Lass

    It`s good news that they`re both OK but it sounds like they might need more than a week off. Ritchie has been our best performer since his arrival but he has played a lot of games. We have good young players in the wings (see what I did!) so he could easily be used as a sub for the odd game. Atsu`s good on his day but is inconsistent and always seems to play better when he`s missed a game or two so the occasional rest won`t do him any harm either. We need to give the decent fringe players like Aarons and Murphy some game time and PL experience so why not rotate the wingers a bit?

    • Rich Lawson

      I’d love to see Murphy get a start ?