Matt Ritchie was superb this past weekend as he played a vital part in Newcastle United securing their first three points of the season. The Magpies ran out convincing winners at home to West Ham United, with their organisation and hard work a major reason for their success. It was billed as the match of two struggling teams, but the newly-promoted side were much improved on Saturday and deserving of the victory.
During the first two matches, there were a few supporters that criticised Ritchie and doubts were cast about his ability to compete at the highest level. The Scottish international will never be the most exciting player to watch as he lacks pace and mobility, but he proved that he belongs in the top flight on Saturday. There is a reason why Rafa Benitez sees the midfielder as an important figure in his Newcastle revolution and it was clear to the rest of the world against West Ham.
The best parts to Ritchie’s game can’t be quantified by stats or figures, but they are evident to anybody that watches him over the course of ninety minutes. The 27-year-old runs himself into the ground for his team and presses opposition players relentlessly. For the opening goal, it was pressure from him that forced Declan Rice to lose possession and that directly led to the team going 1-0 up. He knew that the teenage midfielder would be uncomfortable under pressure and it was his awareness that gave Newcastle the shot in the arm that they needed.
It is a full-back’s dream to play behind a winger like Ritchie, as they know he will offer them good cover and prevent them from being outnumbered at any stage in the game. On Saturday, his defensive contribution was impressive as he completed five ball recoveries. Benitez demands that every player carries out a specific role and contributes to the collective. There are few more reliable on the pitch than his starting right winger.
Although it was his work rate and determination that impressed most, the 27-year-old was effective in possession and caused a threat whenever he had the ball. He got the assist for the second goal in another example of aggressive pressing. Ritchie won the ball back high up the pitch and delivered a good cross into the box for Ciaran Clark. It may have looked an easy ball to play, but it was excellent composure from the midfielder. Another pleasing aspect of his performance was his set-piece delivery as it caused West Ham problems all afternoon.
This performance will be overlooked, but Newcastle supporters saw the true value of it. They may not have the most talented squad in the league, but they have a core of reliable players and Ritchie is one of those. During their last season in the Premier League, they lacked players that wanted to fight for the shirt and that was their downfall. If the 27-year-old continues to deliver performances like this one, he will establish himself in the top flight.