Rafa Benitez has explained why Ayoze Perez is so important to his Newcastle United team.
Perez has started every Premier League game so far this season.
The forward, used as a No 10 by Benitez, has been lauded for his workrate by some fans.
However, Perez, set to face Burnley at Turf Moor last night, has been criticised by others for his contribution with the ball in the final third of the pitch.
Benitez, United’s manager, is aware of the criticism.
But he believes Perez, preferred to Mohamed Diame so far this season, is an integral part of his team.
I’ve heard (people say) ‘we need a proper No 10’. We knew from the beginning that we needed to improve some positions, but not because the players we have there are not good.Rafa Benitez
“I can read the comments and some people say this or that,” said Benitez.
“He’s doing well. He’s a clever player. He has good movement.
“He didn’t play well (in Newcastle’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace) the other day. He knows. We know.
“He had two or three situations where he could do better, and he was wrong.
“Still, he’s doing a great job, and the understanding between him and Joselu and the midfielders and the rest of the team is quite good.
“When I talk about a clever player, it doesn’t mean he has to control and put the ball in the top corner.
“No, he (Perez) has good movement. He knows when he has to go, press and regain or when he has to attack and do runs behind the defenders. He stays between the lines.
“He’s giving us something that maybe we needed.
“Some people can talk about Diame. He’s a great worker, and, physically, is bigger and stronger, so he can give us something different.”
Some supporters have called on Benitez to sign a No 10 in January’s transfer window.
“I’ve heard (people say) ‘we need a proper No 10’,” said Benitez.
“We knew from the beginning that we needed to improve some positions, but not because the players we have there are not good.
“It’s because we wanted to bring better players to be sure we had the competition.
“This position, the No 10, is a player, normally, that ... and I will give you an example – (Manchester City’s David) Silva.
“(Silva is) a player that understands the game and is always on the ball. He can see the pass and the assist.
“They don’t see Ayo as this kind of player, but he’s not this kind of player.
“But he’s clever enough to do a job and he’s doing a great job.
“Sometimes playing better or worse, but doing a great job.”
Perez has caught the eye more for the work he has done off the ball than what he has done in possession.
The 24-year-old, signed as an unknown from Tenerife in the summer of 2014, has pressed high up the pitch and disrupted teams looking to play out from the back.
Perez has also tackled more than in previous seasons.
Asked about the work he has done out of possession, Benitez said: “Not just when we are defending, but sometimes when we have the ball.
“He has some good movement and is creating space for the others and is doing the runs that will give the others more time on the ball.
“In football, the good thing is that you have a team. Depending on one, maybe the others are doing well.
“I was reading some stats about keepers in Europe. If your team is playing deep, maybe the keeper is the best, because he has a lot of clean sheets. But maybe he’s not making any saves.
“So teams that are playing really, really high, maybe the keeper is really good but is conceding goals all the time.
“Then people will criticise the keeper. It depends on the team.”
Winger Matt Ritchie said earlier this month that Newcastle didn’t have any “superstars” in their squad
And Benitez believes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts at United.
“I think we have a good team because we work as a team,” said Benitez, who worked with Silva at Valencia.
“Silva made his debut in Valencia when he was 17 with us.
“Since then, I know him. He’s a player that you know is very clever.
“Do you need a Silva? Yes, but, because you cannot get this player, what you need is a team around your players so you can get the points.
“That’s it. We have a team, because the players realise that we have to work as a team, as a unit.”