Scouting Spotlight: Suso, Morgan Sanson, Keita Balde
Scouting Spotlight looks at three players whose performances are making waves. Suso, Morgan Sanson and Keita Balde feature this week.
Suso -- AC Milan
Despite making his Premier League debut for Liverpool against Manchester United as an 18-year-old, Suso struggled to command a regular place at Anfield and joined AC Milan in January 2015. He endured an inauspicious start to his San Siro career, but the Spaniard proved his quality last year and has continued to impress.
A versatile attacking midfielder comfortable on the wing or behind a central striker, Suso was once described by Brendan Rodgers as being ideal for a "seven-and-a-half" role at Liverpool. Although the quote was derided, it was recognition of the intelligence of a young player who offers a different dynamic going forward, which Suso has built on at AC Milan.
Normally selected on the right by Vincenzo Montella, the quick-footed 23-year-old likes to cut inside on his favoured left foot to fashion chances or drive at goal. He shuttles past defenders with his balletic dribbling, and is always looking for a smart exchange of passes to open up space in the final third.
Although rarely a goal threat at Liverpool, Suso possesses a powerful shot and has grown in confidence to try his luck from around the edge of the box. He is a player who can create something from nothing, and has cemented his importance to Milan despite the club's heavy spending in the summer.
While several of Milan's expensive new recruits are taking time to settle, Suso has slipped into the groove he found last year when he claimed seven goals and nine assists in his best campaign to date.
He has already scored six times this season, adding three assists, and cracked in a fine effort away to Sassuolo at the weekend to earn Montella's side a much-needed victory.
Suso's form has been acknowledged by Spain manager Julen Lopetegui, who handed him his first call-up to the senior squad in August.
Where would he fit in?
Tottenham were linked with a £19 million move for the midfielder in the summer, with Suso revealing he had offers from three clubs in the Champions League.
He eventually signed a new five-year contract to stay at Milan, which reportedly contains a £44m release clause.
Morgan Sanson -- Marseille
A €9m signing from Montpellier in January, Sanson has established himself as a first team regular at Marseille as Rudi Garcia's side look to return to the Champions League.
Often selected on the left side of a midfield three, Sanson's best position is arguably as a No.10, where he excelled in Marseille's 5-0 thrashing of Caen at the weekend. Charged with finding gaps in the defence, he created numerous opportunities for Florian Thauvin and Kostas Mitroglou and found the net with a low, left-foot drive from just inside the box.
Sanson's vision, technique, and eagerness to drive past opponents are all qualities that first alerted Marseille to his talent but, despite being suited to a playmaking role, he doesn't shirk his defensive duties -- even if that willingness has seen him pick up five yellow cards in Ligue 1.
The 23-year-old's passing can be sloppy at times, although his ability to finish chances and move the ball with either foot is a significant advantage.
With six goals so far this season, including the winner at Lille in October, Sanson's contribution in attack has helped ease the burden on the somewhat out-of-sorts Dimitri Payet.
He will be aiming to improve his assists tally, however, recording just one so far after leading the Ligue 1 standings with 14 last season.
Where would he fit in?
Sanson's assist total in 2016-17 was four more than £90m Arsenal target Thomas Lemar, and the Gunners have previously been credited with an interest in the former France Under-21 international.
Bournemouth and Watford were also monitoring Sanson's situation before his move to Marseille, but it's likely he'll be setting his sights higher for his next challenge.
Keita Balde -- Monaco
A graduate of Barcelona's La Masia academy, Balde was sent to regional club Cornella at the age of 15 as punishment for playing a practical joke on a teammate and chose not to return to the Camp Nou at the end of his loan. He joined Lazio instead and broke into the first team at the Stadio Olimpico before Monaco paid €30m for his services in August.
With pace, poise and a keen eye for goal, Balde caught the attention of Europe's leading clubs last season with a string of impressive performances on the left side of Lazio's front three.
The 22-year-old can play as a winger or centre-forward, making driving runs down the flank or linking play in the middle and seeking out goal-scoring opportunities.
Defenders find it difficult to steal the ball from Balde, given his strength and excellent close control, and he uses these attributes to his advantage when playing in teammates or working space for himself in the final third.
He could occasionally pick up better positions around the box, while his decision-making can also improve.
Despite a relatively slow start on the bench at Monaco, Balde's recent form has helped to soften the blow of the Ligue 1 champions losing Kylian Mbappe to Paris Saint-Germain.
The Senegal international has chipped in with three goals and two assists so far, including a simple finish in the 6-0 demolition of Guingamp on Saturday.
Balde scored 16 goals in 31 Serie A matches in 2016-17, starting just 21 of those fixtures, and will hope to repeat that haul as his new club bid to retain their French title.
Where would he fit in?
Tottenham, Juventus and Inter Milan were all battling for Balde's signature in the summer, but it was Monaco who eventually coughed up the €30m fee to convince Lazio to sell.
It's unlikely he'll be on the move any time soon, but Monaco have a pragmatic approach to the transfer market and may be tempted by a lucrative bid should Balde continue to impress this season.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger