This player is a bigger miss than Ayoze Perez at Newcastle United
Newcastle United are looking for a third successive win at the King Power Stadium.
Only they won’t have Rafa Benitez in the dugout on Sunday – or Ayoze Perez in the team.
Perez has scored the club’s winning goal against Leicester City in the past two seasons.
And those late-season victories were so important to Newcastle as the club fought to stay in the Premier League.
Perez, however, followed Benitez out of the door in July and joined Leicester in a £30million deal.
The 26-year-old hasn’t scored in 334 minutes of Premier League football, though he had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside in the club’s 4-0 Carabao Cup win over Luton Town on Tuesday night.
Perez’s lack of goals hasn’t gone unnoticed on Tyneside.
Given his record in this fixture, many fans fear that his first league goal for Leicester will come against the club which plucked him, as an unknown, from Spain’s second division.
Perez was an influential figure in Newcastle’s impressive run of form in the second half of last season.
So too was Salomon Rondon, who quickly developed an understanding with Perez after joining on loan from West Bromwich Albion.
And Mohamed Diame played his part last season – and the year before – before leaving as a free agent this summer.
So who is the biggest miss for the club?
Perez has his detractors during his five years at Newcastle.
The forward even started putting his fingers in his ears when celebrating his goals last season.
However, there were only cheers ringing in his ears in the latter months of the campaign, as Perez scored 10 goals in the club’s final 16 games to finish, for the second season running, as the club’s leading scorer.
The front three of Perez, Rondon and Miguel Almiron were unstoppable.
Perez has been stoppable so far this season, though Chris Davies, Leicester’s assistant coach, is happy with his overall contribution to the team.
Davies gave Perez this clunky description after the Luton cup tie.
“Ayoze Perez is a multi-functional attacking player who can play down the side, as a central striker or as a 10,” said Davies.
Perez, of course, will be a miss for his goals. That said, it’s arguable that his workrate will be just as big a miss. Under Benitez, the team pressed high up the pitch and harried the opposition.
This year, teams aren’t being pressed so high up the pitch. Steve Bruce felt his team was “too open” in last weekend’s goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion.
Rondon was the real deal. Benitez wanted an old-fashioned No9 capable of scoring goals, holding the ball up and bringing others into play. Benitez got all that – and more – with Rondon during his year at St James’s Park.
Benitez didn’t sign potential, he signed a complete player at the peak of his powers. He signed a player who led by example.
The club’s hierarchy felt that Rondon – who turned 30 this month – was too old for a permanent deal. They felt that there was little or no re-sale value, but Rondon, unquestionably, added value to this Newcastle team.
Rondon – who joined Benitez at Chinese club Dalian Yifang – has been replaced with Joelinton, a player who will need time to adjust to the pace and intensity of English football. The Brighton game also showed that he can be unsettled by the physicality of the Premier League.
Joelinton will adjust, given time. He’ll get used to the division. Bruce – and United fans – can’t expect too much, too soon from a player who’s new to the country.
Andy Carroll, signed as back-up to Joelinton, is entirely comfortable with the physical side of things, but Newcastle can expect too much, too soon from him given that he’s only just come back from an ankle operation. Carroll will need time, too.
Diame was rarely a match-winner for United. However, how many matches did Diame keep the club in during his three years at the club?
The 32-year-old, arguably, did his best work without the ball. Yes, he could score goals – Diame was fielded as a No10 in the Championship – but his game was as much about disrupting the opposition and getting in amongst it in midfield.
Newcastle’s midfield, without the injured Sean Longstaff, has been found wanting. Isaac Hayden has been over-worked, and Jonjo Shelvey, seemingly still hampered by the thigh injury which sidelined him last season, has been off the pace.
A player with Diame’s physicality would be a welcome option for Bruce, who signed him while manager of Hull City.
Diame was two league starts away from triggering a one-year contract extension last season. Had he not suffered a mid-season injury, he would still be at the club.
That said, Diame wanted two years, and there was a strong case for giving him what he wanted.
Newcastle, unquestionably, miss all three. They all added something to the team.
However, the biggest miss, for me, is Rondon, closely followed by Perez. He was the most complete No9 the club had had since Shearer, and Perez and Almiron flourished alongside him.
But there’s another point to make. Benitez got the most out of them because he used them well. They knew exactly what they were doing in Benitez’s system.
The challenge for Bruce is to get the best out of the likes of Almiron, Joelinton and Shelvey – just as Benitez did with Rondon, Perez and Diame.