Coral Exclusive: Matt Ritchie on Newcastle’s fine fans and life under Rafa
We caught up with the Magpies’ wing wizard
Newcastle United are on the up after successive Premier League wins over Watford and AFC Bournemouth. And as always, Matt Ritchie played a vital part.
Ahead of the Magpies’ Monday night trip to Burnley, we caught up with the star winger for an exclusive chat.
Read on to hear Matt’s thoughts on everything from life under Rafa Benitez to the St James’ Park faithful and linking up with Salomon Rondon…
Coral News: Newcastle head into the Burnley game off the back of wins over Watford (1-0) and AFC Bournemouth (2-1). What do you think were the key factors in getting those two victories?
Matt Ritchie: I actually think we’ve been performing quite well throughout the season. We’ve just been a bit unlucky and have drawn games which we should have turned into wins.
You just get a confidence boost after winning a game, and I think our last couple of performances have been right up there. The key now is emulating those displays in the run we’re heading into.
CN: You’ve started 11 of Newcastle’s 12 Prem games this season, including both of those wins. How do you feel about your own season so far; and what’s been the most memorable moment up to now?
MR: The most memorable has to be the winner at Watford [from Ayoze Perez], and the weight off our shoulders that came with the result. It was a fantastic feeling, because we’ve been working so hard and it’s beginning to pay off.
I’m happy with how I’ve played so far. I think I’ve contributed well to the side. Obviously I’d like to add a few more goals and assists, but I think recently as a side we’ve been very solid and compact – and I’ve played a part in that.
CN: It’s perhaps no coincidence that both of those wins came at St James’ Park. Newcastle fans are famous for their loud and loyal support. How much has that meant to the players?
MR: The fans play a big part for us. Everyone needs to be on the same page for us to have a positive season, and I feel they’ve been really good with us.
I think there’s always been a good feeling between the players and the supporters, and that’s been the case since I arrived – even when we were down in the Championship
We’ve been able to give them a couple of wins recently, and hopefully now we can build on that.
CN: You were one of the first players Rafa Benitez brought in at Newcastle, back in 2016. What’s he been like to work with over the period, and do you feel he’s helped develop your game?
MR: Yeah, for sure. He’s very calm, collected and experienced. He’s helped my game, especially in a tactical sense – I’ve learnt a lot over the past couple of years.
He’s a manager I think I’ll keep progressing under, and hopefully that’ll be true for the whole squad this season.
CN: A more recent arrival – Salomon Rondon joined the club on loan from West Bromwich Albion in the summer. He bagged a brace against Bournemouth last time out. What has he brought to the team, and do you think those goals are a sign of things to come?
MR: He was brilliant against Bournemouth. Obviously he got both goals, but it wasn’t just about that. He gave us an outlet throughout the game, he was always available.
For myself and either Kenedy or [Jacob] Murphy on the other side, Salomon gives us a real focal point in the centre. If we get the right deliveries to him, I’m always confident he’ll put them in the back of the net.
I think we’ve had a good understanding throughout the team all season, and you saw that pay off at Bournemouth.
CN: Things seem to be picking up for the whole side on the pitch. You’ve now conceded just once in three games, taking seven points. Is there a buzz about the camp right now?
MR: There’s a good feeling about the place. We know that we haven’t reached our goal yet, we need to keep working and improving. This still isn’t a position [in the league] that we want to be in, and I think we have the players to be higher up the table.
It’s all good talking about this, but we need to go out there and put those things into practice. We’ve got a run of games coming up which we think we can get quite a few points from.
Burnley is going to be a tough game – we know that. But the focus is on going there and coming away with three points.
CN: Obviously the short-term aim is to increase the gap between you and the drop zone. On Monday night, you’re away to Burnley who are just a place below. What sort of a game do you think we’ll see at Turf Moor?
MR: Turf Moor’s a difficult place to go, as everyone knows. I think it’ll be a tight game, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.
We’re on an upturn in terms of recent results, so we’re going there with plenty of confidence. I think it’ll be a good-quality game.
CN: Finally, have you set a target for this season? And how far do you think this side can go?
MR: The main goal is to stay in the Premier League. Once we’ve achieved that, we’ll look at higher targets – but it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves.
For the time being, survival is the aim. Last year when we got to the 40-point mark and knew we were safe, that’s the point where we looked up the table to see how high we could potentially finish.
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