Some eyebrows were raised when Matt Ritchie decided to swap the Premier League for the Championship, as Newcastle bid to make an immediate return to the top-flight in 2016. The move now appears to have been a shrewd one given the precarious position his former club Bournemouth find themselves in. Even so, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the Scot, who has spent the majority of his tenure out of position.
Rafael Benitez switched the Magpies to a back five during his time at the helm and without an attack-minded left-back, Ritchie was forced into the role. Though it perhaps limited Ritchie offensively, the 30-year-old knuckled down, putting the team first to work tirelessly up and down the left flank.
After muddling through the season with a five-man defence, Bruce has switched to his preferred back four, and if Newcastle recruit sensibly, the move could work wonders for Ritchie. Danny Rose has performed admirably since arriving from Tottenham Hotspur on loan, and there are strong links indicating that he could remain on Tyneside for the foreseeable future, meaning the 30-year-old could play in his favoured role.
Against Watford, aside from foolishly conceding a penalty, the Scottish winger showed what he is capable of in a more advanced role, by playing two key passes, the most of any Newcastle player. Ritchie was consistently opening up the opposition, and his deliveries from out wide were one of Newcastle’s greatest attacking threats, delivering five crosses, two of which were successful. Had Andy Carroll or Joelinton started the match there is a chance either of the forwards could have turned in one of those glorious chances, as they both possess better aerial abilities than Dwight Gayle.
Another aspect of Ritchie’s game that could be better utilised further forwards is his reliability in possession, having kept an 82.6 per cent pass accuracy against the Hornets. Of the Magpies’ starters, only Miguel Almiron conceded possession less frequently, though he played much safer, not attempting a single cross or long ball, unlike the Scot.
In 15 Premier League appearances this term Ritchie has scored once and assisted once, both of which have come during his four appearances at right midfield, so there can hardly be greater proof that his influence is stunted when filling in at the back. B
y securing Rose permanently, Bruce would not only fill a void in this squad but also releases Ritchie further forwards, increasing the potency of his attacking options.