Newcastle United briefing: Matt Ritchie's surprise withdrawal, Achraf Lazaar reflects on 'bad decision'

Matt Ritchie's heading back to Newcastle United '“ after withdrawing from the Scotland squad.

Matt Ritchie
Matt Ritchie

The winger played 87 minutes against Costa Rica at the weekend, but he won't feature in tomorrow night's friendly away to Hungary.

Ritchie has scored in Newcastle's last two home games – the wins over Southampton and Manchester United – and he will now be assessed ahead of Saturday's fixture against Huddersfield Town at St James's Park.

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Meanwhile, midfielder Mohamed Diame has spoken about his on-pitch partnership with Jonjo Shelvey.

And defender Achraf Lazaar, on loan at Benevento, could be on the verge of another move ahead of the summer's World Cup finals.

Here's your daily briefing:

Achraf Lazaar


The Scottish FA announced this morning on Twitter that Ritchie had withdrawn form Alex McLeish's squad along with ex-United defender Grant Hanley and Manchester United's Scott McTominay.

However, the reason for Ritchie's withdrawal has not yet been revealed.

The 29-year-old – who had a hernia operation at the end of last season – had found himself in the cold under former manager Gordon Strachan after pulling out of a squad because of a groin injury.

Matt Ritchie

“I started really well for Scotland,” Ritchie told The Scotsman. “I came in and scored a few goals and had an impact on the team.

"I wasn’t able to make a trip because of a groin injury, and then went down the pecking order. I didn’t really make it back in for the remainder of the campaign and that was frustrating.

"Everybody wants to play, but you have to respect the manager’s decision. It wasn’t to be and I didn’t play as much as I hoped to at the back end of the campaign.

“I thank the manager (McLeish) for bringing me into the fold and it has given me some good experiences. Hopefully, I can use them to be a part of this team.”

Achraf Lazaar

Slim chance

Islam Slimani, on international duty with Algeria, isn't expected to play against Iran in Austria tomorrow night.

The on-loan striker has been sidelined with a thigh injury since joining from Leicester City in January.

However, Slimani was still capped up by his country, and United manager Rafa Benitez expected him to get some minutes in one or both of Algeria's games.

The 29-year-old wasn't involved against Tanzania last week, and he will be assessed when he returns to Tyneside ahead of the Huddersfield game.

If Slimani isn't passed fit at the weekend, he will then miss the April 7 game against his parent club Leicester. Slimani's next chance to play would be April 15, when Arsenal visit St James's Park.

Matt Ritchie

In the cold

Lazaar, meanwhile, has played even less football than Slimani this season.

The defender was cut from Benevento's squad after the January transfer window closed, and his last Serie A game was in mid-November.

Lazaar, signed from Palermo in the summer of 2016, is desperate to play.

The 26-year-old, keen to earn a recall to the Morocco squad ahead of the World Cup, is eyeing a move to Major League Soccer.

"I want to be at the World Cup with Morocco,” Lazaar is quoted as saying. “Representing my country is the greatest satisfaction, and I want to be at the World Cup with Morocco, as that would be a dream. Now I’ll do everything I can to earn my chance.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been pushed out of the Benevento squad. Coming here was a bad decision.

“I belong to Newcastle and must think about what is best for my career and right now I need playing time.

“I can confirm that there are three clubs who are interested in MLS, but I prefer to respect those clubs and not name the ones who contacted me."


Diame has finally hit form at Newcastle this season.

And the 30-year-old is helping bring the best out of Shelvey, his midfield partner.

“I’ve known Jonjo for a long time now, I know how good he is,” said Diame. “So I’m trying to cover him when I can and help him to get on the ball.

“We know that when Jonjo gets on the ball, he can deliver how he did against Southampton and win games for us.”

Read our full interview with Diame on his form and Newcastle's relegation battle here.

And finally...

Newcastle weren't in action at the weekend, but there was still a 30,174 crowd at St James's Park.

That was the crowd for a Premiership rugby game between Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints on Saturday.

The Falcons won 25-22 to go fourth in the table.

Coach Dean Richards said: "St James's Park's a fantastic stadium, which we've known since the World Cup here in 2015. We were just itching to get here and play and, with a crowd of 30,000, the atmosphere was absolutely brilliant.

"It was a proper game of rugby as well, and we got over the line in the end. We were a little frustrated by our own inaccuracy, but we deserved to nick it."