Is this 22-year-old the man to turn Newcastle's season around?
If you’re a Newcastle United fan this season then it’s fair to say that there isn’t too much to be shouting about right now.
They’ve been comprehensively beaten on derby day yet again, they’ve won only eight points in the league since the beginning of September (almost three months ago), and they’re currently sitting above the relegation places by a thread.
With manager Steve McClaren seemingly struggling to find his feet back in the Premier League, and a run of tough games against Liverpool and Tottenham to come, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the Magpies?
This is where the young, raw talent of Ayoze Perez could step in and become the spearhead to change Newcastle’s fortunes around.
So far this season the 22-year-old Spaniard hasn’t exactly set England alight and made a household name for himself, with three goals and two assists from 13 appearances this year. In honest truth, since his introduction to English football just over a year ago he hasn’t quite been able to fulfil his early career promise.
Ten Newcastle goals in 34 starts since his debut in October 2014 certainly doesn’t reflect both his potential and his work-rate on the pitch though.
His pace and constant energy could, if used at the right times, easily exploit any frailties in Premier League defences, and his continuous movement upfront could become a nightmare for the opposition.
This capability to run in behind back lines could prove vital and substantially improve Newcastle’s potency in front of goal, something they are severely lacking in at the moment.
There’s no need to look far to see how effectively this can work, as it’s what man of the moment Jamie Vardy has been doing for Leicester City all season long – and just look how that’s transformed last season’s downward spiral around and catapulted them up the league.
Perez has shown in glimpses this campaign that he may be the man for Newcastle to turn to; his performance (and goal) in the 2-2 draw against Chelsea, in a game they should have won, was immense and showed that he’s not afraid to get stuck in and support the defence when needed.
On the other side, although Newcastle were completely and utterly outplayed against Bournemouth a few weeks ago, Perez showed that he only needs one chance in a game to make an impact. One shot in the whole game for Newcastle, one shot for Perez, one goal.
A key element in getting the Spaniard firing for the rest of the season could surround his strike partner Aleksander Mitrovic. McClaren has given the pair of them a fair run of games together recently, and although they haven’t quite clicked yet, if they do it could prove vital for Newcastle’s survival chances.
Mitrovic is the complete opposite player to Perez; his six foot plus frame means he’s not lacking in strength, and he’s already shown his physicality this season after being carded in his first few games of the season.
If the Serbian can begin to use this physicality in the right way, and keep his discipline, then it can be used perfectly as hold up play which Perez’s pace can revel from.
The vast difference in playing styles could, if used correctly by McClaren, complement each other well and add a cutting edge in front of goal that Newcastle have been missing all campaign.
Obviously it’s not all down to Perez to turn the season around, as we all know that it takes more than one man (in most cases) to add momentum to a team.
In Newcastle’s case, there’s a huge need to strengthen their defensive line and become more solid; at the moment, it looks like every other attack from their opposition will end in a goal as there are so many gaps in their back four.
Rob Elliot has stepped in admirably and not done a bad job since Tim Krul’s untimely injury, particularly in the 1-0 victory against Bournemouth, but there’s only so much he can do when he’s being subjected to shot after shot.
Fabricio Coloccini seems a shadow of the player he was when he first joined Newcastle; he seems slow and always a step behind the play, and seems unable to control the back line like he once did.
For the whole defence to start performing as a unit, it’s key that he’s the man to get back into some form and dictate them again.
The defending against Leicester City a week ago was comical at times, especially for Leonardo Ulloa’s goal where he was left completely unmarked at the back post in acres of space.
Forget about Perez firing up front, if Newcastle can’t learn to defend (and quickly) then there’s no foundation for going forward up the pitch.
In spite of this, there is no doubt that Perez has a lot more to give to the team than he’s shown since his arrival.
During a stint playing for Tenerife in the 2013/2014 season, he won two player of the month awards, the breakthrough player of the season award as well as the best attacking midfielder award, and he was named in the Spanish Segunda Team of the Year.
Admittedly, he’s never going to fill the goal-scoring void left behind by Demba Ba, and Perez isn’t particularly a 20 goal a season man, but his clever attacking guile combined with a more rigid Newcastle United defence could, maybe, save the Magpies’ season and finally give the fans something worth shouting about.
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