Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáenz de la Torre is a player who at times is as puzzling and dazzling as his flamboyant Spanish name. The attacker who we have all come to know simply as ‘Suso’ generates substantial debate between Milan fans.
Undoubtedly talented with a special left foot, the former Liverpool player is frustratingly inconsistent. In amongst his creative moments of magic, Suso is accused of being a peripheral figure in more games than a player with his quality should be.
Despite contributing seven goals and nine assists last season, there was a feeling that in those cagey games where Milan needed a hero or something extraordinary to claim a crucial win, Suso was absent. As the man that many look toward for inspiration on those occasions, the Rossonero Number 8 would often leave onlookers disappointed. Not all of Milan’s deficiencies last term can be laid at the feet of Suso. Gennaro Gattuso’s team were somewhat functional and underwhelming.
Whilst Suso’s attacking numbers were certainly credible, the majority came in a hot spell of form during the first part of last term, as 11 of his combined goals and assists arrived in the opening 11 rounds, with the other five coming in the second half of the campaign. Delve a little deeper and you will see that in the 12 games where Suso’s attacking interventions ended with the ball in the net, Il Diavolo only lost once, drawing twice and winning the other nine.
However, there is a counter argument here. None of Suso’s goals came against an opponent in the top eight and only three of his assists came against a rival in the same top eight positions. Now it may seem unfair to expect Suso to take down Serie A’s big guns, but out of Milan’s 11 draws last year, six were against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Suso has been a crucial figure for Milan, but he is as infuriating as he is impressive. Some of the 25-year-old’s limitations are his own, but some blame can be apportioned to how he has been deployed. It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Suso is heavily left footed and during his time in Italy he has predominantly been used as an inverted right winger.
To play that role, you need variety or isolated exceptional qualities like Arjen Robben. Suso has potential to have both. However, located on that side of the pitch makes him predictable, you know what is coming. A cut inside onto his left foot followed by a deep cross or shot and as we have seen, they come with varying success. Intelligent defensive units have shown that Suso is easy locked out of the game, so would a move away from the touchline be beneficial for him?
It is well known that new Milan boss Marco Giampaolo favours a 4-3-1-2 formation and you do not have to be an elite Coach to realise that is a system without stereotypical wide players. As a result, speculation has been rife that Milan are ready to cash in on Suso, but it appears Giampaolo has different ideas, using him as a trequartista in pre-season.
This change raises immediate questions. Primarily, is Suso capable? And is he a better option than exciting Brazilian Lucas Paqueta as a Number 10? The constant connection to play will be instantly beneficial for Suso and technically there is no doubt that the Spanish international has that attributes needed. His agility and low centre of gravity combined with his close control, dribbling ability and range of passing/shooting makes him a dangerous prospect in central areas.
It would open up the game for a new creative Suso. This blend of attributes would allow him to eliminate opponents in a number of ways, exposing defences and create the numerical superiority that his Coach demands in the final third.
Positioning, tactical discipline and energy are vital in Giampaolo’s teams. Wide areas provide Suso with time and space, something he would receive less of centrally, and it is here where we perhaps start to find a few sticking points. A prerequisite for a Giampaolo playmaker is intensity and work rate. Can Suso cope with the physical and mental demands of the game as Milan’s trequartista?
Perhaps the biggest doubt over Suso in this role is physically. Out of possession he must sacrifice himself and press intensely, whilst also being prepared to retreat and form part of a compact defensive midfield diamond. Dynamic movements are necessary, decisions are required to be made quickly and executed with precision under pressure. Slowing the game down is not an option, so persistently chopping the ball across onto his left foot would not be favourable.
Suso must still pass the test, but signs so far have been promising. The Cadiz-born player is proving competent and has surprised in a positive way. The Rossoneri now have a recipe for success. The emphasis will be placed on the team working in sync to get the best out of the group and the individuals within it.
In Giampaolo, Milan have the ideal man to help evolve skilful Suso and bring the best out of him on a consistent basis.