Ever since he became a Newcastle player, Matt Ritchie has been one of the first names on the teamsheet. But when he returns from injury, the 30-year-old is entering uncharted territory.
With Jetro Willems performing so well, Ritchie’s path back into the starting XI is unclear. The former Bournemouth man started the season as Steve Bruce’s first choice left wing-back, but he’s been out of action since picking up a nasty injury in the Carabao Cup against Leicester.
While we’ve missed Ritchie’s intensity at times, Willems has been a more than adequate replacement. The Dutchman has added extra quality in possession, creating goals as well as getting one himself – a stunner against Liverpool. And he’s came close a few other times too.
Willems’ delivery and use of possession is excellent. He’s not as tenacious as Ritchie, but still gets the job done. Combining with Allan Saint-Maximin, we’ve had real joy down the left flank.
So where does Ritchie fit in when he returns? On current form, you can’t drop Willems. And Ritchie’s lack of pace means he’s not going to get in the front three ahead Saint-Maximin or Miguel Almiron.
Last season, Ritchie reinvented himself under Rafa Benitez, going from a right winger to a wing-back. This move breathed new life into his Magpies career. But what’s next?
The former Scotland international cost £10 million in 2016, and played a key role in winning promotion back to the top flight. He’s been equally as important in the Premier League.
His contract expires in 2021, and talk of an extension has stalled. At his age, he’s not the kind of player who gets a new deal from Mike Ashley.
When he returns from injury, Ritchie is playing for his Newcastle career. And it’s going to be harder than ever for him with no clear route back into Bruce’s XI.
If he doesn’t prove his worth, he could easily be sold next summer to avoid losing him for nothing in 2021.