One of the more positive aspects of Milan’s campaign has been Samu Castillejo’s turnaround in the second half of the season amid Suso’s exit from the club.
The 25-year-old arrived in 2018 in a deal which saw Carlos Bacca leave us to join Villarreal, and although he had shown glimpses of his talent in La Liga, it was still a gamble at that point as he hadn’t proven himself consistently.
Four goals and four assists in 40 appearances in his first year with us didn’t instil much confidence that he was a winger capable of taking us back to the top, and up until the Cagliari game on January 11, this season was following a similar pattern.
No goals or assists in eight league outings, regular spells on the bench along with suspension and injury woes, it didn’t look as though Castillejo was particularly going anywhere promising.
However, from mid-January onwards, the Spaniard found a new lease of life at Milan.
Credit due, but is it enough?
The best thing that could have happened to Castillejo was the formation switch to a 4-4-2, as it suited his characteristics perfectly when playing him on the right side of the midfield.
Even after the switch to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 depending on how you interpret Stefano Pioli’s system, Castillejo became a permanent fixture in the starting line-up and it even led Milan to make the decision to call time on Suso’s stint at the club.
Admittedly, his form hasn’t been particularly electric. Even since his good spell started he hasn’t scored in Serie A this season and has just two assists in his last eight league outings. The Coppa Italia is where he has stood out, with a goal and two assists in three appearances.
It’s more than just the numbers though. His energy, work ethic and defensive qualities have made him a vital part of the XI, and that commitment and determination has been very much appreciated by Milan fans who will always value a player’s effort and desire to do as much as he can.
For that, Castillejo deserves a huge amount of credit. The question remains though, can he help get us to the very top again and if or when we get there, is he good enough to produce week in and week out?
The stats don’t support the argument in favour, and they’ll serve as evidence that he’s not a long-term solution and Milan should be aiming for better.
Or should we persist? He’s come this far over the past three months or so, and at 25 years of age, are there still more levels to his game to discover?
It’s a big decision and while we continue to struggle to break back into the top four in Serie A, perhaps it’s a moot point as we can’t bring in a superstar who is capable of being a game-changer and who follows in the footsteps of some of the illustrious names that have previously worn the Milan shirt.
Castillejo has certainly proven that he does have a place in the Milan squad now, and he’s a valuable option to have as he is a hard worker with a dash of flair and quality to make something happen. The great players are separated from the good ones by their ability to be decisive week in and week out though, and if Milan want to start aiming higher up the table, is sticking with Castillejo in the XI next season the right move?