Newcastle United’s Matt Ritchie fires a warning to Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Liverpool’s exciting attackers
Matt Ritchie is relishing his new lease of life at Newcastle United having been transformed into a wing-back.
And the 29-year-old has warned the likes of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino that he feels well-equipped to deal with their strengths as they prepare to visit St James’s Park on Saturday evening.
The switch to wing-back has been a real change for Ritchie, who has spent the majority of his career in a more attack-minded role.
But with Newcastle’s style of play undergoing some change following promotion to the Premier League two seasons’ ago, the former Bournemouth ace believes both he and the side are better-served by the positional switch.
“I’m really enjoying it ,” he said of his stint at wing-back.
“We’ve spent quite a lot of time playing with a front three, with Ronny, Miguel and Ayo, and if you’re playing as a wide player in that formation, you have to be a real threat in behind.
“My strength isn’t really running behind.
“Don’t get me wrong, if we were a total football team it would be different, and it was different in the Championship because we had a lot of the ball.
“But with the team we have now in the Premier League, we’re a bit more counter-attacking. I enjoy playing wing-back – I get a lot more of the ball than I did higher up the pitch.”
For a player in the attacking mould, a switch to wing-back could prove tasking given the extra defensive responsibilities placed upon them.
But Ritchie admits he has enjoyed the defensive side of the new role and - after a it of a learning curve - feels he is well-placed to deal with the attacking talents of the Premier League.
And that should serve as a warning to the likes of Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane - who will have to overcome a revitalised Ritchie if they want to fire Liverpool to victory on Saturday.
“I thoroughly enjoy the defensive side too,” added the Newcastle man.
“I’ve played against some very good wingers now. I’ve learned on the job a bit defensively, and if you ask the gaffer here or Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, they’d probably never have said that I could defend.
“I’ve always liked to press and enjoyed regaining the ball, but one-on-one defending has never really been part of my make-up.
“But I’ve really relished and enjoyed learning it, and I feel as though I’m accomplished now in that part of my game.
“I feel confident coming up against not only high-skilled players, but also fast players. I feel as though I know how to deal with it.”