Matt Ritchie has been a prominent figure for Newcastle United this season and has helped the side to a third successive victory against Stoke City. They have moved up to 4th position and they look every inch a Premier League team already. It will a tough ask to maintain their place in the top half as the season progresses, but these three wins have given them confidence and breathing room. No team will look forward to a trip to St James’ Park and that couldn’t be said during their last campaign at this level.
They are a hard-working and determined outfit that are happy to concede possession, utilising the counter-attack to great effect. There isn’t a player that symbolises their style better than Ritchie. He runs himself into the ground for his team and is an aggressive presser in the final third. The 28-year-old is a full-back’s nightmare and Erik Pieters didn’t enjoy going up against him on Saturday.
His most notable contribution was in attack, as he made three key passes and contributed the assists for both goals. The first was an excellently-weighted ball over the defence to find Christian Atsu, who finished it off to give the Magpies a first-half lead. Although Stoke got back into the game, it always looked like the home side would take the three points and Ritchie made the winner. His set-piece delivery has been good this season and his corner was headed in by Jamaal Lascelles.
The winger now has four assists in the Premier League this season and he is establishing himself at the highest level. His distribution was better on Saturday as he completed 74% of his passes, which is higher than his average for the season. If he can continue to improve this part of his game, he will become more threatening in the final third and Newcastle will reap the benefits of that.
Defensively, his stats don’t make for the most impressive reading, as he failed to win any of his four attempted tackles and made only one interception. However, his relentless pressing does make it uncomfortable for the opposition and leads to poor decisions. That was evident on Saturday and he sets the tone for the rest of the side. He may not be the club captain, but he is an influential figure.
Newcastle can’t afford to get carried away by their recent good form. Ritchie won’t. At the age of 28, he is one of the senior players in the side and he will realise the importance of focusing on each game as it comes. It has been a long journey for the winger, but he now looks like he belongs at the highest level.