Matt Ritchie has become somewhat of a dilemma.

His commitment, drive and determination are key elements of the team spirit and workmanlike ethic of today’s Newcastle side…but his current form and performances raise questions about his continued inclusion in the side.

He surely would have been dropped by now if Newcastle’s miserly transfer policy had not left the squad light on competition and a suitable replacement. The worst Newcastle manager of the modern generation, Graeme Souness, once said: “you cannot win anything with a team of James Milners” – the same statement almost certainly applies to Matt Ritchie.

While workrate and commitment to the cause are admirable qualities in a footballer and vital to any team, they are not the criteria upon which a winger’s performances should be judged. Wingers should be one of the creative catalysts of the team, but when it comes to providing assists and goals, Ritchie falls well short of baseline requirements.

Prolific in both departments in the Championship, he has failed to deliver on a consistent basis in the Premier League, and the club should consider parting ways with him in the summer if they are to progress. On the provision they can find a decent replacement, receiving anything over 10 million in the summer transfer market for Ritchie would represent excellent business, up there with the sales of Mitrovic, Carroll and Sissoko.

In the meantime, the question is: should Matt Ritchie retain his place in the side?

If the answer is to replace him with Jacob Murphy and Christian Atsu then he should probably stay in the team. Murphy and Atsu might be more creative and threatening going forward, but they are too inconsistent and defensively naive.

The arrival of Fabian Schar to the scene does, however, present an alternative to Benitez that might not have been considered. This alternative is to move Schar to right full-back and play Yedlin in the right wing position.

Schar has proven to be very comfortable on the ball in right-sided positions on the pitch, so once Jermaine Lascelles returns from injury, it could be a good option to move Schar to right full-back, both for the quality of his distribution and defensive solidity. Yedlin’s defensive frailties are overstated, but he is often caught out by long balls to the back post, so having Schar at right full-back might reduce Newcastle’s vulnerability in this area.

Replacing Ritchie with Yedlin might also be a prudent move as Yedlin has proven to be a threat going forward this season, with his additional pace frightening defenders and the quality of his delivery providing some vital assists. Furthermore, Yedlin has a similar work ethic to Ritchie which means the team would not lose their shape and defensive consolidation.

Where would such a tactical reshuffle leave Ritchie?

One option would be to use him as an impact substitute with his energy causing problems to tired defenders. An alternative option would be to use him as an orthodox left winger.

The rationale for playing Ritchie on the right is that he will cut inside on his left foot and score goals, but he does not do this consistently enough, so why not use him as a left winger to provide the crosses to Rondon in the box?

Playing Ritchie on the left would present the opportunity to play Kenedy in the number 10 position where he could be more direct and dangerous.

Another option might be to play Ritchie as the number 10, particularly in away games where his energy and commitment would disrupt other teams. He would also be a more dynamic and threatening presence than Perez, who again showed against Bournemouth that he gets caught in possession too easily and cannot finish chances where he has time to think.

If Newcastle are to move forward and progress, then players like Matt Ritchie need to be moved on.

He served his purpose in the Championship but is not fit for purpose in the Premier League. In the current squad though he is still an important player, but there are options available to Benitez, when it comes to solving the Ritchie dilemma (see below).

Dubravka

Schar

Lascelles

Fernandez

Dummett

Yedlin

Shelvey/Ki

Diame

Kenedy/Ritchie

Muto/Ritchie/Perez/Kenedy

Rondon

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  • Paul Patterson

    Absolute twaddle on two points.
    First, you need workmanlike players in your side to aid the flair players. Ritchie is that workmanlike player, not to be relied upon all the time but certainly not to be chucked aside.
    Secondly, “you cannot win anything with a team of James Milners” is one of the worst statements to be made by a manager in recent history. He’s been a great player for his clubs and what’s he won? Nearly everything. Souness was a clown and anyone thinking Ritchie is a problem at our club is mad. We just need to add quality around him.

    • Squintytoonarmy

      Spot on – good pro, wears his heart on his sleeve. Has periods of different form but what wingers don’t.

    • Ram Kishore

      A player like Milner is something any team would jump for. A player who can play anywhere across the midfield. He even played at the wingback.
      Excellent workmanship, leads the the team well and rn Ritchie is that guy in the middle.
      Fernandez is doing that Job in the backline leading well.

    • Tony English

      Exactly the first point I was about to make.

      My second point being the comment in the article “so once Jermaine Lascelles returns from injury” – Really? I’m looking forward to him teaming up with his brother Jamaal, and maybe we can sign Marlon, Michael and Tito too.

      What a back five that would be.

  • mactoon

    I wouldn’t drop Ritchie he is one of the consistently good performers in an under strength team. With Rondon coming to full fitness we need players like Ritchie to create chances for him.

  • DZA

    I wouldn’t get rid of Richie. Quoting GS who was clueless about Milner who driving Liverpool forward changing roles to help the team. Newcastle need Richie and losing him would be a loss.

  • Steven05

    I sometimes hope our players don’t visit this site

  • Pezza

    Ritchie had one of his most effective games and his crossing into the danger zone for Rondon created panic in their box, especially in the first half. Yedlin final ball has improved but not up to Ritchie’s standard

  • Mrkgw

    I like Ritchie and wouldn’t contemplate selling him. Move him into the centre but don’t cast him aside – we need players like him.

  • HarryHype59

    The writer actually makes a number of valid and objective points. Ritchie is an honest journeyman at EPL level. He hasn’t got the pace or quality needed to be a genuine EPL quality winger.

    If this team is ever to progress beyond perennial relegation strugglers, there needs to be an upgrade in players like Ritchie.

    • Ram Kishore

      The left midfieldposition also seemed viable one when he’s combined with a offensive minded LB.

  • Mxpx

    I’m all for giving Jacob Murphy a go but not to oust matt Ritchie mainly to promote competition

  • Down Under Mag

    I actually think having players like Ritchie in your side are instrumental to having any sort of success. Every successful side has them, those players who graft and do the hard work to make space for the team or do the dirty work tracking back to allow more attack minded players the chance to keep bombing forward.

    Ritchie’s problem is that we haven’t bought the flair players needed to make his job easier. Kenedy has been appalling so far this season, only just starting to show glimpses of last seasons form, it happens, but when you put all your eggs in one basket then it becomes an issue. Rondon showed on the weekend what we have been missing in terms of a real number 9, but hasn’t played enough. Other than that we are starved of flair going forward and so Ritchie, who should be there to be competitive and help out where he can, is being expected to not only graft and win the ball and keep things tight BUT also provide the flair and attacking option we need as a side as well.

    I certainly would find a lot of other players who I would be looking to offload long before Ritchie ever made that list!

    • MediaMook

      Agreed.

  • David2211

    Yeah but moving forward and being ambitious and winning things is not a priority. So why worry?

  • 1957

    Maybe the potential transfer to Stoke breaking down has had some effect on his form, from what I’ve read he was quite keen, together with seeming to be Benitez scapegoat at the start of the season when he appeared to be substituted in every game despite not being the worst performer on the day.

    He is limited in what he gives to the team but he’s better than he is showing up to now

  • MediaMook

    Matt Ritchie is the type of player that managers have first on the team sheet most weeks. He always looks for the ball even when in patchy personal form. Never hides. Fellow players under pressure on bad team runs of form would appreciate that. Was glad when the rumoured move to Stoke didn’t happen. Hope he kicks on for rest of season. Keep him in team.

  • BJR

    Some interesting points raised here. As fans, we cannot bleat about lack of ambition and activity in the transfer market, then be content watching the likes of Ritchie toiling away each week.

    He is undoubtedly a model professional, possessed of an excellent temperament and attitude. But his skills as a footballer are relatively modest, befitting of a team of perennial strugglers. Finding an upgrade would not be easy or cheap, but isn’t that what we are asking for when we deliver our ‘Ashley Out’ chants?

    Look at our opponents from the weekend -Bournemouth – who sold Ritchie a couple of seasons ago, to the surprise of many pundits. They have not missed a beat.

    Of course for the current struggle Ritchie remains an important member of the team, but in the longer term we have to accept that fortunes are not likely to improve whilst the team is populated with players of this calibre.

  • NUFCDan

    Realistically upgrading Ritche would be very difficult IMO so he’d be pretty low down my list. I mean what would do on a limited budget, take a punt on another Cabella/Thauvin from France? Buy a promising player from the Championship? We’ve already got one in Murphy.