After joining Milan in 2018, Samu Castillejo took time to adapt, settle and showcase his quality, but having been given an opportunity this season, he has started to step up.
Just four goals and four assists in 40 appearances last season tells its own story, as he battled inconsistency, a lack of quality and competition for places.
With question marks over his lack of physical strength, quality on the ball and end product, some would have perhaps believed that the 25-year-old wouldn’t last long at San Siro as he really hadn’t shown enough to suggest that he could be a consistent and decisive figure in the final third.
However, while Suso’s slide began in the first half of this campaign, Milan opted to green light an exit for the Spaniard in January and that in turn has given Castillejo a chance to prove his worth.
It’s a chance that he taken with both hands as he has now firmly established himself as a key figure in Stefano Pioli’s XI.
Key Castillejo traits
One thing that Castillejo can never be faulted for is his work ethic and commitment to the team. He works tirelessly out of possession to close the opposition down, apply pressure and track back to support his teammates whenever possible.
There is simply rarely a scenario in which you’ll see him showing a lack of desire, and that is a crucial factor as to why he is now so appreciated by many supporters.
Further, there has undoubtedly been an improvement in his contribution in the final third, and while tallies of one goal and four assists don’t paint a particularly positive picture, his pace, directness, movement off the ball and ability to take players on adds a crucial dynamic to our attack.
He’s slotted into that role on the right wing and made it his own, and combined with the likes of Ante Rebic and Hakan Calhanoglu, they’re providing us with a much-needed level of energy and tenacity to offer a key presence in both phases of the game.
As seen in the tweet below, he’s created a Europe-leading 31 chances since the turn of the year, and it’s hoped that his efforts are gradually rewarded more often as he’s growing in influence for the side.
Samu Castillejo has created 31 chances since the turn of the year – more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues
Prior to the New Year this season the Spaniard had created just six chances across nine Serie A appearances for AC Milan pic.twitter.com/peGXvvopiF
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 10, 2020
Still major room for improvement
As hinted at above, tallies of one goal and four assists in 19 outings isn’t great, and if he wants to hold on to having a major role in the side moving forward, he must be more decisive.
Work-rate and desire can only get you so far, he has to match that with quality on the ball and an ability to unlock the opposition in key moments while also offering a consistent goal threat himself.
On too many occasions this season he has fluffed his final pass or finish, and ultimately it’s that ruthless edge in front of goal which will see him either be regarded as a great player or just a good one.
While we don’t know what will happen this summer with uncertainty over Ralf Rangnick’s arrival despite all the speculation, as noted by La Gazzetta dello Sport, Castillejo still has work to do to not only avoid being a casualty of a potential overhaul, but also to solidify himself as a starter and avoid being relegated back down to a squad player.
It remains to be seen what happens amid the suspension of Serie A due to the coronavirus outbreak, but he could face a decisive run between now and the end of the campaign to build on what he’s done thus far and really secure his long-term future at Milan.