What has Rafa Benitez done to Ayoze Perez? Newcastle’s forward has had a Premier League reboot

Ayoze Perez in action against Stoke.
Ayoze Perez in action against Stoke.

Ayoze Perez left the field to a standing ovation.

Perez was warmly applauded off the pitch late in Newcastle United’s 2-1 win over Stoke City last weekend.

But the 24-year-old hadn’t found the net.

Perez hadn’t even come close to scoring. And he hadn’t set up either of Newcastle’s goals.

What had caught the eye was his workrate – and, unusually, his tackling.

Perez made more tackles – seven – than any other Premier League player last weekend.

I always try to get better and improve myself and give my best for the team.

Ayoze Perez

The forward was everywhere. He was tireless. And he was aggressive. Perez – who had his critics last season – snapped into tackle after tackle.

And he left the field exhausted in the 86th minute, when he was replaced by Mohamed Diame.

Perez is one of five players to have started all five of the club’s league games so far this season.

Rafa Benitez, United’s manager, alternated between Perez and Diame at No 10 last season in the Championship.

However, Perez has edged ahead of the 30-year-old, who retired from international football earlier this year to focus on his club career.

Jamaal Lascelles, Matt Ritchie and Mikel Merino got the plaudits for the Stoke victory – the result took the club up to fourth place in the Premier League – but Perez’s running – and tackling – was extraordinary.

Benitez is trying to improve his players week in, week out.

Perez hasn’t found the net so far this season, but he’s still making an important contribution to a team which is on a roll ahead of Sunday’s game against Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.

Still, Perez, one of the best finishers at the club, wants to score goals.

“I always try to get better and improve myself and give my best for the team,” said Perez in pre-season. “My job is to score goals, so hopefully I can score as many as I can.”

The goals, hopefully, will come.