Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in a 3-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday, meaning the midfielder is now suspended for Wednesday’s clash with Everton.
It also means Rafa Benitez now has some tough tactical decisions to make in a very short space of time before The Magpies’ trip to Goodison Park.
Ritchie has started 13 of the Toon’s 14 games this season and is an integral part of the starting XI.
He’s arguably one of Newcastle’s strongest performers and has recorded the third-highest rate of successful crosses in the league this season.
But with the midfielder now unavailable, Benitez will be forced to rotate his team.
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Newcastle desperately need to bounce back from their first defeat in four matches, and Benitez will be looking for his fringe players to step up to the plate.
Murphy or Atsu?
The most obvious move for Benitez would be to simply start either Christian Atsu or Jacob Murphy in Ritchie’s place.
The fellow wingers would offer a like-for-like replacement, and both arguably have more pace and trickery than the Scotsman. Although in the past they have failed to create as much end product.
Atsu is probably the most likely to play on Wednesday as he played most of the second-half against West Ham.
The Ghanaian is often brought on in the later stages for Newcastle, often replacing Ritchie.
But in his only start this season, he failed to have much effect.
The winger was unconvincing for 90 minutes in a 2-0 home defeat to Leicester, and he’s not fared much better as an impact sub this season either.
Perhaps now could be the time for Jacob Murphy to make another claim for the first team. The Englishman hasn’t played for Newcastle in six matches now and desperately needs another chance to prove himself. His impact when given minutes is certainly no less than Atsu’s.
Rather than waste his talent, fans would be pleased to see him get some game time and continue to adapt to the Premier League.
Another formation change?
Most Newcastle fans though would probably prefer Benitez to re-jig his formation.
An injury to Paul Dummett forced him to do just that against Burnley last week, a decision which worked wonders.
A 5-4-1 line-up with Ciaran Clark brought in as a third centre-back and Ritchie moved to left wing-back saw the Toon comfortably take all three points.
In some respects, it was confusing the manager didn’t go for the same formation again in the West Ham game.
It could prove particularly effective in away matches, when Newcastle are low on possession. It allows the team to soak up pressure and then counter attack quickly through their wing-backs.
If Benitez does go for this approach, it’s likely to be Kenedy who takes the left wing-back spot, leaving room in midfield for Jonjo Shelvey to return to the starting line up.
But with Dummett and Ritchie both missing from the starting XI, it’s going to be a difficult game either way.