NEWCASTLE: The Premier League season comes to a close on Sunday — but for this experienced Newcastle United trio, the Magpies’ trip to Chelsea will not be the farewell many expected.
Fans had been expecting the Stamford Bridge affair to be a final Newcastle appearance for defender Paul Dummett and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, while injured Matt Ritchie was also expected to be saying his goodbyes.
However, head coach Eddie Howe admits he has other ideas.
While the trio have been three of the Magpies’ lesser-used players in their 25-man Premier League squad this season, Howe is keen to see all three stay, even hinting that he hopes to convince out-of-contract duo Ritchie and Dummett to pen new terms on Tyneside ahead of a Champions League campaign.
“I haven’t had discussions with players yet, no, but I will be doing so in the next few days and mapping out certain things for certain individuals,” said Howe about his squad heading into the summer.
Addressing what he sees for Slovak Dubravka, who went out on loan to Manchester United at the start of the season but returned after a lack of game time, Howe said: “I very much think his future is here.
“I rate Martin very highly and always have done. Just last summer, we had the opportunity to recruit Nick and he’s done incredibly well.
“It’s been difficult for Martin to get the game time he wants, but we need a good squad going into a season with loads of games. If Martin were to stay, then I think he’d get a lot of football.”
Dummett and Ritchie have not started a Premier League game all campaign but have proven to be very valuable members of the squad behind the scenes, helping others with their topflight experience and leadership qualities.
Ritchie, though, has been angling for a move back home. He has been based on the south coast of England for some years now, and Howe accepts that may scupper his hopes the former Bournemouth and Portsmouth man will remain.
“I’ve held various discussions with Matt throughout the season and I think, first and foremost, he’s been very committed to Newcastle and to the team and aims this season,” said Howe.
“I have said I desperately want to keep him next year. He has had issues surrounding his family and the distance between him and them. It’s never easy when you have young children, and that distance when you’re a parent is tough at times. But Matt has been exceptional and I certainly hope he stays for next season.”
There could also be method in Howe’s assumed madness when it comes to Dummett.
Given Champions League rules require four homegrown players to be named in every club’s tournament squad, the left-back ticks that box, having come through the club’s academy.
“Again, I hope we can come to an agreement with Paul and he will stay for next year,” said the head coach.
“I think he is a vital part behind the scenes of our success this year. He’s trained superbly and his commitment to Newcastle is undoubted. We’d love him to extend his stay.
“You can never tell what’s going to happen in the future, but I don’t see that for maybe 95 percent of the squad,” he said, referring to players leaving the team. “Maybe one or two players might move this summer, but it’s very difficult to predict. But as I said earlier, we have to keep the majority of the squad together. I feel they’ve earned the right to do that. But we have to be good in the transfer market.”
Meanwhile, Howe admits his squad are bumped and bruised heading to West London this weekend — and it seems certain he will make changes to a team that has very much relied upon its continuity this campaign. Only Arsenal have made fewer starting XI changes through the course of the season than Howe.
“We have a few issues. I think the end of the season has come at a good time for us,” said Howe.
“Players like Joelinton will miss the game, for example. (Javier) Manquillo will miss the game, and then we’ve got the others who have been injured going into the Leicester game. We’re stretched, but it will give us a chance to have a look at, maybe, one or two other things.”