AYOZE PEREZ claims the ‘unseen work’ of the Newcastle United squad has been the key to the club’s successful start to the season.

Rafael Benitez’s side will return to action at Southampton on Sunday looking to cement their position in the top half of the table after picking up ten points from their opening seven games on their return to the top-flight.

Unlike some previous Newcastle sides that have been packed with attacking flair but suspect at the back, the current Magpies team is a hard-working, well-organised unit that defends from the front.

The likes of Perez and Joselu run themselves ragged to close down their opponents, and while Newcastle’s attacking players might boast just four league goals between them this season, their efforts have still been a key factor in their side’s strong start.

“The manager tells us all the time that we have to start our defending with the strikers,” said Perez, who has been an ever-present in the Premier League. “He tells us that we are really important for the shape of the team.

“We have to be in good positions, and make their (the opposition) players feel uncomfortable. That is something we have spent a lot of time working on and trying to improve.

“It is the kind of work that is sometimes hard to see. It is not as obvious as when you are scoring or making runs into the box, but it is just as important. It is work that we have to do because it is important for the tea, and it has been working really well.”

Perez’s role in the Newcastle team has changed markedly from the days when he first arrived as a fresh-faced forward from Tenerife.

Back then, the Spaniard was an out-and-out striker, occasionally leading the line on his own and almost always playing as part of the forward line.

This season, he has been playing in the ‘number ten’ position, and his work supporting the central midfielders playing behind him has been every bit as important as his runs into the box.

He still regards himself as a centre-forward, and would ideally like to be playing in the role that is currently being filled by Joselu. But he is happy to sacrifice his personal ambitions for the good of the team, even if that means limiting his opportunities to get himself on the scoresheet.

“Sometimes, you have to enjoy that side of the game,” said Perez. “Being a striker is not just about scoring goals. Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices and suffer a bit for the good of the team.

“You have to try to make your opponents uncomfortable, because that might lead to more spaces for the counter-attack. Against the top teams in the division, you often have to play in that way. The teams at the top of the table are very strong, and they know what to do with the ball, so you have to be aware of that and make sure you do your job to stop them.”

Perez has spent the last few days training on Tyneside, having briefly returned to his family home on Tenerife at the start of the international break.

“I think most of us needed this break,” he said. “We (went) back to our homes, and it was a chance to rest and recover. It was also nice to get a bit of sun! I think we deserve this little break because we have put an awful lot into the first few matches of the season. Hopefully, when we all get back, we will be full of energy for the next games.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle have scotched suggestions that they could be willing to sell Aleksandar Mitrovic to Brighton when the transfer window reopens in January.

Chris Hughton was left frustrated when he failed to land a striker in the final days of the summer transfer window, and the Brighton boss sent a senior scouting delegation to watch Mitrovic in Serbia’s 3-2 defeat to Austria last Friday.

Newcastle fended off interest in Mitrovic during the summer, and will adopt a similarly dismissive stance if there are further approaches for the 23-year-old at the turn of the year.

Mitrovic has not made a single Premier League start this season, but Benitez continues to regard him as a potentially valuable asset and has accepted it would be almost impossible to replace him in the January transfer window if he was allowed to leave.