Steve Bruce could set Newcastle United back even further by selling Matt Ritchie to AFC Bournemouth amid plans to reshape the Toon this month.
According to The Shields Gazette, Bruce is considering parting ways with at least one of his high-earning players ahead of the February 1 transfer deadline as he looks to freshen up his underperforming squad.
The Magpies are without a win in 10 games across all competitions after losing 2-0 at Aston Villa on Saturday night, while boasting just a single goal in 746 minutes of football after going four games without scoring.
Bruce is now said to be weighing up whether or not to cash-in on some of the members of his Premier League squad to free funds that will allow for at least one loan signing in the January transfer window, with United just seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Yet Bruce is keen to retain West Bromwich Albion target Andy Carroll and has considered offering new contracts to free-agents-to-be Dwight Gayle and Jacob Murphy ahead of their current deals expiring at the end of the season.
Ritchie is another who may spend the final week of the winter market with an uncertain future on Tyneside, following reports by The Sun that claimed Bournemouth were keen to re-sign the former Scotland international after his move to St. James’ Park in 2016.
The midfielder’s situation is also said to have been discussed during talks over Cherries coach Graeme Jones’ move to the Magpies, per Football Insider, as the Championship outfit failed to reach an agreement to re-sign Ritchie last summer when selling Callum Wilson to Newcastle.
Bruce is absolutely right to consider parting ways with those he feels will not help Newcastle secure Premier League safety as he looks to freshen up the United squad, but should not contemplate including Ritchie in the list of players who could leave Tyneside this month.
Instead, Bruce should make a U-turn on his stance over Ritchie’s place in the starting line-up, with the 31-year-old only playing 16 minutes across the Toon’s last three top-flight fixtures and not starting at left-midfield since the Magpies last won a league match.
Just weeks after undergoing surgery for a shoulder injury, Ritchie returned to the starting XI at home to West Bromwich Albion last month and showed no fear with a string of crunching challenges to help toward a 2-1 victory.
Bruce will need players with the spirit Ritchie showed at St. James’ Park if he is to get Newcastle through their difficult patch, especially with top-scorer Wilson being questioned for his work rate in an abject display at Villa Park over the weekend.
No Newcastle player has been as creative as Ritchie when fielded in the top-flight, either, with the £45,000-per-week beast offering 1.6 key passes a game as one of only two United players to have carved out more than one goal scoring opportunity whenever they take to the pitch, per WhoScored.
He also offers a key pass every 30 minutes when fielded at left-midfield, a record 11 times better than that of Joelinton with the Brazilian creating only one opportunity for a Toon teammate to find the back of the net over his 335 minutes on the flank to date this term.
If Allan Saint-Maximin is unable to hit the ground running now that he has returned from a lengthy spell out after testing positive for Covid-19, Bruce will need Ritchie. But if the £8.5m-rated maestro is on the south coast, the Magpies boss will be the only one responsible for setting the St. James’ Park natives back.
AND in other news, Steve Bruce must axe an £8m-rated total dud holding Newcastle back…