Will Matt Ritchie's return boost Newcastle's Premier League, FA Cup chances?
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Can Matt Ritchie play a key role in Newcastle pushing on to a successful season? The Scottish International's return from injury, which will now be overshadowed by Danny Rose's arrival at the club, adds real quality to Steve Bruce’s squad. At least all the pressure will be on the erstwhile Tottenham left-back.
Appropriately, the Magpies' campaign alternates between black and white stretches. Despite early struggles, the Toon are now unbeaten in six in all competitions, including taking five points from their last three league games against Wolves, Chelsea and Everton. In a tightly packed Premier League mid-table, they are 14th, seven points above the drop and only four behind Manchester United in fifth.
To date, Bruce relied on one or two players. Allan Saint-Maximin is the huge hit. Fans have taken to the Frenchman's zeal for taking on defenders with his raw pace. His end product isn't always there. On the other hand, the club experienced another dark period when he was injured in late December. Their ascension since the 22-year-old's return demonstrates his importance. The same goes for Miguel Almiron. The Paraguayan took his time to settle but is now tearing into opposing defences.
Despite Saint-Maximin and Almiron's success and Rose's arrival, Matt Ritchie's return could prove the turning point in Newcastle's campaign. He played a key role in their recent victory over Chelsea. It can be argued he brings more quality to the squad than anyone.
The 30-year-old broke through with Bournemouth during their rise to the Premier League. He stood out for the Cherries in their inaugural top-flight campaign before returning to the Championship and scoring 12 times to help the Toon bounce straight back up.
Prior to this season, he rarely missed a league game for the North East giants. Ruled out during a League Cup tie with Leicester City in the early doors, Ritchie was expected back within months. Unfortunately, his recovery took far longer than anticipated.
His dead-ball delivery and service in general will help Almiron and Saint-Maximin, as well as Joelinton, who starves for good service more than any other Magpie. Ritchie will lighten the pressure on other players, including the emerging Longstaff brothers. A winger who can play on both flanks, his first action upon returning was to bridge the gap between Rose and the injured Jetro Willems. If the Spurs star settles quickly, Bruce will find room for Ritchie further up the pitch.
Despite the side's awful performance in a 0-0 draw at home to League One Oxford United in the FA Cup on Saturday, Bruce stuck with his newly returned midfielder for the full 90, lifting Sean and Matty Longstaff rather than the player who was least match-fit. While Ritchie takes his share of the blame, the squad's let-down was almost predictable. Newcastle's record in the Cup recently can only be termed appalling. Still, they retain an excellent chance to change that. If they can get past the U's, West Brom await with a quarterfinal place at stake.
Ritchie’s experience can play a huge part in the club battling on two fronts.