Matt Ritchie has given Newcastle United some unforgettable moments since joining the club almost half a decade ago. A wonderfully angry and reliable right-winger-turned-left-sided-defender, his penalties against both Manchester clubs to secure famous wins sent St. James’ Park into frenzies.
However, this could indeed have been a season too far for the 31-year-old. Linked with a move back to former club Bournemouth earlier this summer, Steve Bruce admitted the player had his head turned following interest and that the Cherries could not offer him a package he liked following their relegation from the Premier League.
With Jamal Lewis unable to start following the facial injury he picked up against Brighton last week, Ritchie was selected as the left-wing back for Sunday’s draw with Tottenham. Having played there 32 times for the Magpies, this was nothing new for the former Scotland international but, frankly, he failed to perform.
Using stats from Sofa Score, Ritchie’s performance looks really rather bleak. Losing possession 13 times, he did little to alleviate the pressure on his side by constantly allowing Spurs to recycle the ball after picking it back up and, winning just 1 out of 4 ground duels, barely provided much cover on his side.
According to FBRef, Ritchie pressed Spurs’ players 11 times during his 69 minutes on the pitch. Given that Lewis, who replaced him for the last third of the game, did this 6 times, it suggests the summer signing is more suited to naturally harrying opponents. If Newcastle are going to concede possession as they are currently doing, having someone to press and set-up counters at speed is surely the best option to win the ball back and release the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser when all are available.
Both Fraser and Saint-Maximin appear to be more natural wingers on the left too, given their pace and the fact the former established himself as one of the Premier League’s most consistent providers prior to last season and the latter delighted Newcastle fans with an impressive 4.7 dribbles per game, the second-best in the division. On the right, Almiron has been praised by Bruce for his performances this season and summer signing Jeff Hendrick can also play there.
Looking at his situation has to be measured. This isn’t to say he can’t offer anything at all or that he’s finished at the top level. Not only would that be hugely disrespectful to a loyal servant to the club but reactionary to what was largely an awful afternoon for the Magpies as a whole. Still, with Newcastle needing to sell before they buy and Ritchie reportedly having his head turned at this stage of his career, a parting of ways could have been beneficial to both prior to his recent injury.
Ritchie has been a wonderful signing for Newcastle and more than paid his £12m transfer fee back. Not only was he instrumental in helping Benitez secure a quick-fire return to the land of the English elite, he’s provided some unforgettable moments in the top tier. However, looking at his performance on Sunday (his first league game of the season), the options going forward and the current situation at St. James’ Park, perhaps this could be a season too far.