It’s been a long and difficult season for Newcastle United, and no player has captured it’s highs and lows better than Ayoze Perez.

The Spaniard has went from zero to hero in just a few months, evolving from the side’s most criticised player to it’s most celebrated.

Unfortunately for strikers, they will almost always be judged on their goals, and for the first half of the season, Perez found them hard to come by.

His poor performances came under fire from a section of supporters, aggravated by the fact Newcastle were dipping in and out of the bottom three.

(Photo by NurPhoto)

However Rafa Benitez stuck by his fellow compatriot, and has since been rewarded for his loyalty.

Despite the striker managing just two goals in his first 25 appearances this season, he’s gone one to score seven in his last ten.

Against Everton, Leicester, Watford and Southampton, his goals even proved decisive in securing all three points.

Like him or loathe him, Newcastle would have 12 less points without the divisive forward.

But why did Benitez stick with the forward when any other manager would have dropped him?

The answer is that Perez is Benitez’s perfect player, working tirelessly to support the compact Newcastle system.

Even when he’s not scoring, the manager believes his contribution to the team is invaluable.

And unfortunately for Perez detractors, the latest stats prove Benitez right.

Defending from the front: Perez’s incredible work rate

(Photo by NurPhoto)

Although it may not be obvious to some on match day, Perez is actually the hardest working striker in the Premier League.

When looking at league statistics for interceptions, the Spaniard has achieved far more than any other striker.

The top three strikers ranked by interceptions made are:

Ayoze – 42
Junior Hoilett – 30
Raul Jimenez – 23

But even more surprising than that is Perez’s tackling stats for this season.

The striker is often lamented for being ‘weak’ when going up against opponents, but he is in fact statistically very strong when making his own challenges.

The top three strikers ranked by tackles made are:

Ayoze – 59
Richarlison – 47
Wilfried Zaha – 38

And when you combine these stats, the sheer efforts of Perez become loud and clear.

Top three strikers for tackles & interceptions combined are:

Ayoze – 101
Junior Hoilett – 65
Richarlison – 62

There is no other striker in the league that comes close to Perez’s defensive work rate, and that alone makes him a great asset to Newcastle.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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