Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie have ended speculation about their futures by signing new three-year contracts at Newcastle United.
Under Mike Ashley’s ownership Newcastle have been inclined towards offloading older players while they retain some resale value but Steve Bruce has succeeded in emphasising the importance of Ritchie, 30, and Shelvey, 28, in the dressing room as well as on the pitch.
“The nucleus of the team that got Newcastle out of the Championship and is still playing well today is still here, the core group of them, and these two have been instrumental in it,” Bruce said. “We all know what Ritchie is like, the way he is – there’s never a dull day – and Jonjo, on his day, we all know is a very, very talented footballer, so I’m delighted that they’ve committed their future to us. Let’s hope now we can get another two or three others done as well.”
Newcastle have also offered another midfielder, 19-year-old Matty Longstaff, a new deal. Talks are ongoing but Bruce’s tone is becoming a little less optimistic when he discusses a player recently watched by Internazionale and Milan and whose contract at his hometown club runs out in June. “We all know what I think about Matty – we’re hoping something can get sorted,” said Newcastle’s manager before Saturday’s trip to Southampton. “Let’s hope he wants to stay with us.”
Bruce faces arguably the first stern examination of his recently remodelled back four from Danny Ings and his Southampton team-mates, and travelling Newcastle fans have been confronted by a significant logistical challenge following the collapse of Flybe. Hundreds of supporters had booked to fly to Southampton on the airline but must now contemplate rail and road journeys, often involving two overnight stays.
Bruce, who trusts his switch from five to four in defence can help banish Newcastle’s lingering relegation fears, has a selection dilemma in attack but is highly unlikely to shift Miguel Almirón from his preferred position “in the hole”.
The manager suspects that coronavirus makes it “pretty inevitable” that Premier League games will be played behind closed doors this season.