Premier League

Pérez’s Inconsistent Invention Newcastle’s Best Option

 • by Thomas McIlroy
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“You’re not fit to wear the shirt!” is a chant which must be any footballer’s worst nightmare.

And while former Newcastle United defender Warren Barton didn’t go quite that far when talking about Ayoze Pérez this weekend, he wasn’t far off.

“Some of the players have to have a look at themselves,” he tweeted after the Magpies’ 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

When asked what he thought of Pérez, he added: “I’m not having him, he’s not a Newcastle player.” Pretty damning.

But is Barton’s assessment of the Spaniard too harsh? Out of all the games to pick Pérez up on, perhaps the one where he claimed a telling assist and had more shots (three) than any other Magpies player wasn’t fair.

His miserly tally of two Premier League goals this season isn’t good enough for an attacking midfielder. There is a caveat, though.

Pérez is joint fourth in Newcastle’s top league goalscorers this season, proof that finding the back of the net is an issue that runs through Rafa Benitez’s side. The Spaniard isn’t alone.

And statistically Pérez has been one of the best players at St James’ Park this season. Let us explain.

In terms of expected goals (xG), he’s on 2.88 this season, which is slightly above the two goals he’s actually scored. Only three of his team-mates (Joselu on 6.13, Dwight Gayle on 4.09 and Christian Atsu 3.82) have a higher xG than the Spaniard.

Meanwhile, of players who have played ten games or more in the Premier League for Newcastle, Pérez’s xG per 90 of 0.17 puts him fourth – behind the three aforementioned players.

And using the same criteria, the Spaniard is second in terms of expected goals assisted (xGA), with 0.2 per 90. Only Matt Ritchie (0.24) is higher than him.

However, once again, his total xGA of 3.35 outperforms his actual assists, which is more likely down to the poor quality of the Magpies’ finishing, something that’s plagued the club this season.

Newcastle want and need creativity in their side as they try to put their goalscoring woes behind them, Having players like Pérez in the starting XI will only increase their chances of scoring.

He is making 1.47 key passes per 90 this term, which puts him behind Ritchie (1.9) and Jonjo Shelvey (1.53). But the Spaniard is often receiving passes in tight spaces, as opposed to out wide and in a deeper midfield position.

The problem doesn’t lay with the 24-year-old, it instead lies with the forward options.

With Gayle and Joselu having just seven goals between them this season, any creative player will have been frustrated. The arrival of Islam Slimani will hopefully change that profligacy on Tyneside.

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Of course, trying flicks that don’t come off will frustrate Magpies fans, but there is no real alternative for the No.10 role in the squad. Mohamed Diamé is nowhere near as creative, he averages 0.37 key passes per 90 and has an xGA of just 0.01, Ritchie plays out wide and Shelvey is used deeper.

It’s clear that Benítez trusts Pérez – only seven players (three of which are defenders) have featured in more league minutes than the Spaniard this season. And his endless running is crucial in a team that’s struggling towards the bottom of the table.

The respect goes both ways, too. The attacker said in November: “Our relationship has been brilliant – I have learnt a lot under him.

“To be honest, I’m always trying to improve myself and under Rafa you are always going to improve. This season he has given me a lot of confidence which is always important for a player.”

He may not have the goal return some fans would hope, but with the lack of options in his position, it would be a surprise if Benítez drops Pérez soon, despite Barton’s public criticism.

What’s more, his creativity and impressive statistics compared to his team-mates  means he deserves to be starting regularly for the Magpies.

He may try a few flicks and tricks that don’t quite come off, but Newcastle need creativity rather than just a team full of solid players if they’re to survive. And Pérez, while inconsistent, does offer that.

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