Received wisdom has it that competition is key to success in football – and Rafa Benitez agrees – but Ayoze Perez is thriving now he has a clear run at the Newcastle first team.

Perez has quietly become one of Newcastle’s top performers in 2018, now assured of a place off the main striker as Mohamed Diame impresses in a deeper midfield role.

Diame was far from the first player to share that position with Perez.

Despite hitting the ground running upon his arrival from Tenerife in 2014, the Spaniard’s first season was disrupted by a relegation battle in which John Carver trusted more senior players.

A year later, Siem de Jong was similarly seen as a safer option, while Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum also competed for pitch time.

Diame’s arrival then meant that, even in the Championship, Perez was still not assured of a place in the team.

Rafa has called for signings to aid competition time and time again, but Perez has never been able to fulfil his clearly lofty potential when every quiet showing is punished with a spell on the sidelines.

The 24-year-old relies on momentum and he has finally been able to get that since the turn of the year.

Perez scored the winner at Stoke City, impressed in the FA Cup against Luton Town and was instrumental in the victory over Manchester United, working hard even if others received the plaudits.

It is often perceived as criticism if a player in Perez’s position goes under the radar, but that certainly was not the case against Jose Mourinho’s men.

Now, Perez must hope Diame can continue his own astounding run of form to keep the forward in the team.

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