Matt Ritchie has been criticised by Scotland fans this week after requesting to be left out of the national squad “for the foreseeable future.”
Scotland manager Alex McLeish told a media conference he had wanted the midfielder to be involved in upcoming UEFA Nations League matches against Albania and Israel.
But Ritchie had chosen to refuse the call-up for “private” reasons.
It’s an odd statement as Ritchie has played the full 90 minutes in his last four games for Newcastle.
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He struggled with a knock against Watford late on, but is still expected to start against his former club Bournemouth on Saturday.
But given the nature of the midfielder’s game, avoiding the international break may well provide him with some much needed rest.
Ritchie’s fitness levels
Although a wide player, Ritchie’s game has never been reliant on pace and trickery.
Instead the midfielder contributes to Newcastle with his incredible work rate and crossing ability.
His efforts have seen him become a firm favourite on Tyneside, but he has looked out of sorts at times this season.
Against Watford, he looked tired and on a few occasions didn’t have the legs to get back and support DeAndre Yedlin.
There is some suspicion that he may no longer be able to maintain the same energy levels.
This implies that Ritchie may well be playing through injuries. Or at the very least cannot maintain his high standards of fitness anymore at the age of 29.
Turning down Scotland may well have been a precaution from the midfielder to ensure he does not over exhaust himself.
Defensive workload is tough on Ritchie
A reason for his need for rest may well be due to his defensive workload this season.
Ritchie has always worked hard for Newcastle, but his stats so far show he’s been next level this campaign.
The midfielder has completed 20 tackles in just 10 matches. That’s already almost half of what he managed across the entirety of last season (46).
But even more impressive is that he’s still averaging 5.8 crosses a game.
That is unbelievable when you consider this is actually higher than his total average for 2017/2018 (5.4).
It’s testament to how defensive minded Newcastle have been, but also how much harder Ritchie is working.
Newcastle fans will be pleased he has turned down international duty, as keeping his fitness is key to his success.