Suso set to play leading role in Vincenzo Montella's AC Milan
One of the more consistent aspects of Vincenzo Montella's reign at AC Milan thus far has been the presence of Suso in his starting lineup. The Spaniard featured heavily in preseason, has kept his place to start the Serie A campaign and has been at the heart of much of the positive work from the Rossoneri.
It's a far cry from the beginning of his Milan career, as after joining the club in January 2015, he struggled initially to make his mark and secure a place in the side. Fast-forward 12 months, and a loan spell at Genoa last season was seemingly the catalyst for him to kick-start his career in Italy.
Having made just one appearance for Milan between August and December, he enjoyed regular playing time away from the San Siro and added six goals and two assists in 19 league appearances to his work. It was confirmation of the talent that he possesses, but what he needed was the faith of his coach and opportunities to impress to showcase what he is capable of contributing to the team.
The 22-year-old has had that so far this year, and responded with a superb strike against Napoli prior to the international break while playing an instrumental role in Milan's more impressive attacking play in general in the first two games of the season. Having been able to sustain that momentum over the break with a goal in Milan's friendly against Bournemouth last weekend, Suso is growing in confidence and belief that he can be a decisive figure for the Rossoneri this year.
From his movement and ability to cut in from the right flank to his technical skill and eye for goal, he has all the characteristics required to shine at this level and in this environment, but he must now add consistency to his game.
Montella is adamant that the best is yet to come from the Spaniard, and time will tell as to whether or not the 42-year-old tactician is the man to prise all that talent out of him and make him an integral part of his side in the months ahead.
"Suso hasn't given his best yet," Montella told Mesiaset Premium. "He has enormous potential, but needs to grow in his consistency and also self-confidence.
"He is a little shy and ought to take more risks in the final third. He has to be more incisive, because he has the quality to do that."
From his skill on the ball to his intricate passing to find Carlos Bacca in dangerous positions in and around the penalty area, Suso has the vision and ability to execute that makes him stand out from the rest. As noted by Montella though, he has to have the courage to take the game by the throat and make himself the star on each occasion, and not be content with playing it safe and enjoying a tidy game.
The Spaniard can ill-afford to drift out of matches and not have an influence on proceedings, as ultimately it will more often than not make him a liability at times and make Milan less of a threat. Further, particularly considering Montella's system and style of play, it's all well and good keeping possession for long periods, but if there aren't individuals in the final third capable of producing a bit of quality to unlock defences, then it will become frustrating and tiresome.
Milan have seen glimpses of what Suso is capable of so far this season, and it's hoped that he can pick up from where he left off last month and continue to be a game-changer in and around the box.
Montella certainly needs a reaction to the defeat to Napoli when his side take on Udinese on Sunday, and with M'Baye Niang suspended following his red card at the San Paolo, the onus will be on Suso to be the creative spark.
It's been an impressive start to the season for the former Liverpool man, but the real test will come in the weeks and months ahead as he will need to produce consistently if he wants to take his game to the next level and become a pivotal figure of Montella's Milan.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.