Matt Ritchie is one of the first name on Rafa’s team sheet.
The winger has been mentioned before by the Newcastle boss as somebody the rest of the players should look at as an example, in terms of workrate and commitment.
Like most of his teammates, Matt Ritchie showed his best form in that February to April spell last season.
All three of his goals came in that period, the winners against Man Utd and Arsenal, as well as scoring in the 3-0 victory over Southampton.
His stats do tell a story over these past four league seasons though:
2014/15: 15 goals and 17 assists
2015/16: 4 goals and 6 assists
2016/17: 12 goals and 7 assists
2017/18: 3 goals and 5 assists
Those first two years were with Bournemouth and then the last two at Newcastle, but it is the Championship/Premier League comparison that is startling, though not surprising.
Ritchie’s Premier League stats aren’t disastrous but his form in the Championship is devastating.
In those last two seasons when he played in the second tier, Matt Ritchie made 84 league starts and scored 27 goals as well as getting 24 assists.
No wonder Stoke City were trying to buy him in the summer.
That isn’t surprising, although the apparent willingness of Newcastle to sell him, if the right offer was made, was more than surprising.
The winger’s basic PL stats aren’t brilliant but as well as contributing a fair number of goals and assists, it is his all round game that stands out.
Plus of course the fact that quite simply he is one of Newcastle’s best players in this current squad.
As the Mitrovic £22m sale showed as well, what is the point of Rafa agreeing to sell anybody who he might consider playing, if he is only going to get a pittance to finance a replacement.
In this interview below, Ritchie mentions the likes of Shelvey and Lascelles, and it is this trio who carry a lot of our hopes this season.
Matt Ritchie talking to The Star:
“We are all different characters and I’m just passionate about winning.
“Like everyone else, I can wake up on the wrong side of the bed and I’m an angry little Scotsman, but some days I want a laugh and a joke.
“The lads know me – I have been the same player since day one.
“Jonjo Shelvey will say to me: ‘Matty, please, just for today will you not shout?’ I’ll try it for 10 minutes, but more often than not, I’ll fail.
“Sometimes they just ignore me and are thinking ‘Just shut up’ but it doesn’t stop me because it makes me demand levels from myself.
“I have always been loud, always been vocal, it’s just my personality and I’ve never been one to shy away from voicing an opinion.
“The way I am means I have to raise my own levels.
“But I’m not the only one in this group who demands. Everyone does, just in a different way to me.
“Jonjo for example is very relaxed and calm but there are a lot of leaders here.
“We had a difference of opinion and a discussion about it – a lively discussion.
“I like to think I am honest and open with those around me and if you are demanding the highest standards from team-mates, your own standards have to be right up there as well.
“We (Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles) had a difference of opinion and a discussion about it, a lively discussion…
“Jamaal and I are two of the more vocal characters, very similar in the way we train and conduct ourselves.
“It was something which got overheated but it was nothing personal and 20 minutes later, everything was fine.
“We did not overachieve last season – we had a good year and are proud of what we did.
“But no one in the dressing room is deluded.
“We don’t think just because we finished 10th, we have made it. No way.
“We still believe in ourselves and while we’ve struggled for points so far, we’re ambitious and aim to improve on last season.
“We could win 4-0 at Palace or lose by the same scoreline and you could not tell the difference when Rafa Benitez walks in on Monday morning.
“The gaffer never changes and that’s one of his best qualities. He’s always looking at the bigger picture, knowing one result is neither the making of us, nor the end of the world.
“It’s been a tough start for us, we have struggled to pick up points and while performances have been decent, that’s not good enough.
“We are well aware we need to get that first win under our belts but there’s no alarm, no panic.”