Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez has provided an update on the fitness of Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu ahead of next weekend's Premier League trip to Southampton after both wingers were forced to withdraw from their respective national teams.

Ritchie quickly pulled out of Gordon Strachan's Scotland squad for 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Slovakia and Slovenia on 1 October after supplying a man-of-the-match performance for the Magpies in a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Liverpool at St James' Park.

Sky Sports claimed that the influential 28-year-old, who underwent groin surgery over the summer, was suffering from a minor injury and that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) accepted Newcastle's recommendation that he withdraw as a precautionary measure.

Addressing Ritchie's health with nine days remaining until Newcastle visit the south coast, Benitez was quoted as saying by The Shields Gazette: "Matt Ritchie has been playing too many games.

"He was working very hard and has had a little bit of discomfort lately. There have been a few little things he has been talking about with the doctor. It was better that we didn't take a risk."

Atsu was apparently set to be handed the captain's armband for Ghana in a must-win Group E fixture against Uganda in Kampala on Saturday (7 October), with usual skipper Asamoah Gyan and deputy Andre Ayew both absent.

It was initially reported that a calf issue was behind his subsequent decision to withdraw from Kwesi Appiah's 22-man training squad, although it has now emerged that Atsu is being bothered by a lingering knee complaint.

According to The Chronicle, the player received injections during the early weeks of the season in order to delay an operation that could see him out of action for up three months.

On Atsu, Benitez said: "He has a little bit of discomfort in his knee and we have to manage it carefully."

While both Ritchie and Atsu should be available to face Southampton, defenders Paul Dummett and Massadio Haidara remain sidelined with hamstring and knee injuries respectively. Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is expected to play with a cast after fracturing a finger on his left hand during a training session.

Newcastle have made an encouraging start to life back in the top-flight after a transfer window fraught with failure and rumours over a potential exit for the popular Benitez, with last month's slender defeat to former Championship title rivals Brighton & Hove Albion ending a run of three consecutive victories.

The newly-promoted Toon currently sit ninth after taking 10 points from their opening seven matches and will be hopeful of adding to that haul over the next few weeks as they take on Southampton, crisis-stricken Crystal Palace, Burnley and Bournemouth, before travelling to Manchester United on 18 November.

Matt Ritchie
Matt Ritchie was named man of the match for his performance against Liverpool before the international break