Rafa Benitez’s ultimatum paid dividends in January as Mike Ashley financed moves for Antonio Barreca and Miguel Almiron, with the latter arriving for a club record fee, and both have looked promising so far.
The former provides some much needed defensive depth that will allow Benitez to continue fielding the 5-4-1 formation that has proved effective in recent weeks and was the key to the Magpies’ shock win over Manchester City last month.
As Christian Atsu has admitted during the squad’s warm weather Spain training camp this week, the new arrivals bring pace and creativity to the Newcastle ranks, both of which are commodities essential to their success.
Despite Almiron being the more high-profile of the two acquisitions, Barreca may prove more important over the remainder of the season as his arrival allows another player, who had been deputising on the left of defence, to move further afield.
Matt Ritchie’s passion and work-rate has made him a firm fan favourite at St James’ Park this season and his diligence playing in an unfamiliar role should be commended.
Now likely to return to his favoured midfield role, the former Bournemouth man can influence the attack far more frequently and make more effective use of his penchant to get balls in the box.
Salomon Rondon thrives in a physical battle and relishes opportunities to bully his marker, get his head on the ball and efforts on target – the Venezuelan is the Magpies’ biggest goalscoring threat by far and whatever they can do to get the best out of him, they should.
Ritchie has shown the most intent of any Newcastle player to make things happen and his crossing attempt numbers are up there with the highest in the league – the 29-year-old has swung 169 balls into the box this season.
Unfortunately, they were unable to deal with such a situation themselves as Wolves’ Willy Boly capitalised on a Martin Dubravka error to head his side level in the dying minutes of last week’s clash, breaking Magpies hearts and causing Ritchie to slump to his knees.
This far from rare exhibition of passion is just one reason why the Toon Army love him, but can the number 11 further his career on Tyneside? He clearly has what it takes to steal the captaincy from Jamaal Lascelles next season, particularly while the Newcastle captain continues to deliver bull-in-a-china-shop performances.
If not for Benitez’s 5-4-1, the 25-year-old would surely not even be close to a part of the first team picture – Federico Fernandez, Fabian Schar and Florian Lejeune have all been far more consistent than the Englishman this season.
Ritchie has chalked up four league assists this season – a number that will surely only improve as he is ushered back into his comfort zone – and, particularly if Newcastle avoid the drop, he will be up there in the voting for their player of the season.
Watch how to cross the road like a boss with freestyler Ben Nuttall in the video below…
Speaking to The Chronicle, the wide-man said: “We approach every game with the mentality we can get three points. If we don’t get three we want one.”
It is vital that each and every Magpies player adopts this mentality if they are to secure Premier League football for another season, although it’s clear that Ritchie knows exactly what is required of him going forward. Captain material? He’s certainly making a strong case for it.