Matt Ritchie has been in impressive form since being transformed into a left wing-back in recent weeks, and as ever, he will be centre of attention ahead of a return to Bournemouth on Saturday.
There was a great deal of speculation surrounding the Scotland international in the summer, with rumours of him being unsettled in the North East and looking for a move further South.
But the amiable 29-year-old has dispelled the talk of him not being happy, and when speaking to the Newcastle Chronicle, insisted that Tyneside is “100 per cent” where he wanted to be.
Speaking about being pleased he is still at Newcastle, Ritchie said: “Yeah, 100 per cent. I’m really enjoying it.
“We’re in the thick of a Premier League season, and it’s a fantastic club. And [I’m enjoying] the role I’m in – I’m really enjoying it.”
It was a surprise to many when the winger decided to drop out of the Premier League to become an integral part of Rafa’s revolution, but Ritchie always maintained it was an easy choice.
“It was my decision to leave Bournemouth, because Newcastle was the place I wanted to be – and it’s the same now.
“It’s a challenge I have relished taking on and I still am. For all the good times I had at Bournemouth, not for one moment have I regretted the move.”
It is also clear that Ritchie is loving his new role in the side, having embraced it fully and making a complete success of it.
He enthused: “I’ve got to be honest, I’m loving it. I feel like I get in better areas higher up the pitch with the ball. I’d say that one of my biggest strengths is my delivery, and I get in positions now to cross the ball.
“I feel like, defensively, I had to learn on the job a little bit. I made a few mistakes, small errors, which you get punished for in this league. I didn’t get tight enough at Watford. I came away from that game learning.
“I learnt on the job. The Man City game gave me great confidence defensively. I came away from those games learning and becoming a better player. I’ve certainly really enjoyed playing left-wing-back.”
But Rafa has a big decision to make this weekend. There is no doubt that Ritchie has been a revelation at wing-back, but when the manager abandoned the three at the back formation for the second half against Everton, it completely changed the game.
Ritchie’s switch to the right wing, and Dummett slotting in seamlessly at full-back saw Newcastle dominate and come from two goals down to claim the memorable 3-2 win.
Rafa’s decision may be made easier though, with Fabian Schär being suspended for two games — beginning this weekend — it would be a logical choice to stick with the second half team and formation at Bournemouth.
But Rafa is a manager that often surprises fans with his lineups, and it would not be a major surprise if he slots Dummett in as an extra centre-back, thus leaving Ritchie in his new-found favourite position.
We definitely think a 4-4-1-1 lineup is the way to go, and by far the best chance of bringing another massive three points back to Tyneside.
What do you think about Ritchie’s recent performances? And what formation would you use at Bournemouth if you were in Rafa’s shoes? Let us know below…