Rafa Benitez has used 22 Newcastle players so far this season in the Premier League.

Matt Ritchie is the only one to start all 15 matches so far, with the next highest being keeper Rob Elliot with 13.

The next highest outfield players are Ayoze Perez and Javier Manquillo both with 12 starts.

Matt Ritchie has actually played all but 37 minutes of the season so far, the winger coming off late in three of the matches.

This is the breakdown of the number of minutes each player has played in the Premier League this season:

1313 Matt Ritchie

1170 Rob Elliot

1080 Javier Manquillo

1025 Ciaran Clark

1008 Ayoze Perez

948 Jamaal Lascelles

933 Joselu

918 Isaac Hayden

915 Christian Atsu

905 DeAndre Yedlin

795 Mikel Merino

754 Florian Lejeune

746 Jonjo Shelvey

589 Chancel Mbemba

558 Dwight Gayle

419 Jacob Murphy

311 Mohamed Diame

180 Karl Darlow

97 Jesus Gamez

87 Aleksandar Mitrovic

50 Rolando Aarons

7 Paul Dummett

0 Massadio Haidara, Jack Colback (not even named in the 25 man PL squad), Freddie Woodman, Jamie Sterry, Dan Barlaser, Henri Saivet

The way I see it is that we have probably got six players who are key to this season, if all half dozen are fully fit and playing at what they are capable of, then we should be fine. However, when we are missing a number of these players and/or they aren’t performing as they can, it is a massive uphill challenge as the rest of the squad/team will struggle to cope.

The six I have in mind are Lascelles, Clark, Shelvey, Gayle, Merino and Ritchie.

Of those, only three of them are in the top 10 Newcastle players in terms of minutes on the pitch, with Ritchie 1st, then Clark in 4th and Lascelles 6th.

The problems in creating and scoring goals are maybe largely explained by the fact Merino, Gayle and Shelvey have, for various reasons, not being used as much as I’m sure Rafa Benitez would have liked to do.

Going back to Matt Ritchie, maybe his up and down form of recent weeks has come from having to play every match and almost every single minute. With seven Premier League matches in the period from this Saturday (Leicester home on 9 December) to New Year’s Day (Stoke away), I can’t see even him carrying on his ever present record.

Whilst key players have missed so many matches, we have a lot of poor to average Newcastle players getting too much time on the pitch in my opinion.

The likes of Elliot, Manquillo, Perez, Joselu and Hayden all featuring in the top eight who have been on the pitch the most.

That is not to say they haven’t contributed in a positive way because they all have, to some degree, but when they are all on the pitch together (along with other weaker members of the squad) then we almost certain to struggle.

Hopefully players such as Merino, Shelvey, Lascelles and Gayle can all now put together a run of games where they are all playing as much as possible together, this will also help Ritchie and Clark to show their best form as well, with others sharing the workload/responsibility.

It goes without saying that bringing in extra quality in January would be a massive help – but even without a great deal of new faces, I think Newcastle can be ok anyway if they can keep this group of better quality Newcastle players on the pitch.

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