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).