Matt Ritchie reveals his thoughts on Rafa Benitez’s squad rotation at Newcastle

Matt Ritchie
Matt Ritchie

Matt Ritchie says he wants to play EVERY game for Newcastle United – but he has backed Rafa Benitez’s squad rotation.

Benitez has consistently changed his team this season to keep his players fresh.

If I’m left out, I’m still disappointed, because I want to play.

Matt Ritchie

Ritchie has started all but four of the league leaders’ 19 Championship fixtures.

While the winger is always “disappointed” to miss out on a start, he understands the thinking behind Benitez’s team selection process.

Asked about squad rotation, Ritchie said: “I don’t think the players ever (fully) buy into it, because players want to play every game.

“But at the same time, you probably have to bite the bullet and understand that the manager is doing the best for the team.

“He will see the team through and is our leader, so we need to buy into his philosophy.

“If I’m left out, I’m still disappointed, because I want to play.”

United manager Benitez, helped by his backroom staff, makes his decisions are careful consideration on his players’ fitness on the eve of each game.

Ritchie said: “Football nowadays, there’s loads of stats and they work out the load on your legs, recovery etc, so rotation does come into play.

“With the squad we have got, it’s probably silly not to rotate, because we have strength in depth. So why not rotate?

“What the manager has done so far has worked well, so hopefully we will continue to perform for the rest of the season.”

When Benitez leaves a player out, he explains his thinking.

Ritchie added: “You are never left guessing why you are left out, because there has to be a reason behind it. players understand more.”

Newcastle take on Birmingham City at St James’s Park on Saturday looking to put three successive defeats behind them.

And summer signing Ritchie – who scored in Friday night’s 2-1 Championship defeat to Nottingham Forest – is looking for United to capitalise on their December fixtures.

“It’s an important period, as you have seen this week we have had three games,” said the 27-year-old. “It’s a lot of games all at once.

“The Christmas period is important, because there are so many games, so you want to go into it with confidence and performing well, because you can come out of the other side in a good position and on the home straight.

“We need to continue to progress the way we have been.

“Players love playing games and we all prefer to play than train. I relish playing two or three games in a week.”

Ritchie won promotion to the Premier League with Bournemouth the season before last.

Asked if the division was getting tougher, the Scotland international said: “You have the clubs that have come down from the Premier League with the money from TV.

“It’s such a huge prize to get to the Premier League, so the Championship clubs throw everything at it.

“I wouldn’t say it is more competitive than two years ago, because it always was anyway, but I understand the prize is so big that clubs throw anything at it to get in the Premier League.

“There was us Norwich, Brighton and Watford and Middlesbrough two years ago.

“Middlesbrough looked like the team all season, but then at the end Bournemouth and Watford snuck in. It was a successful season.”

Newcastle’s five-point lead at the top of the Championship has been cut to just one point.

“You look at the league and we were five points clear, all of a sudden you drop points and it’s tight again,” added Ritchie.

“It is so early to start talking about who your competitors are.

“You have to concentrate on yourselves and make sure our performances are right and that we keep picking up points.”

Asked if he had expected United to make such a strong start to the season, he said: “I wouldn’t say we would have expected anything, because you have to earn the right.

“We’re in a good position, I expected to be in and around it.

“Hopefully, we can continue to perform the way we have been in the league.

“The performances have been very good and we want to continue to pick up points.”