Milan ace impresses vs Lecce to reemphasise important progression this season

Castillejo AC Milan

While Milan turned on the style to secure a win over Lecce on Monday night, Samu Castillejo reiterated his importance to the side after returning to the starting XI.

The Spaniard was suspended for the Coppa Italia clash with Juventus last week, but such is his standing with Stefano Pioli, he was immediately restored to the line-up in our first Serie A game back.

READ MORE: Five key talking points as Milan find goalscoring touch in 4-1 win over Lecce

Castillejo certainly didn’t disappoint either as he scored the opening goal of the game with a brilliant finish, as seen in the video below, finally registering his first league goal of the season.

It wasn’t just his ability to find the back of the net which stood out on Monday though, as the energy, urgency and tireless work ethic he brings to the side has also helped to ensure that he has established himself as a key figure in the XI since the turn of the year.

There is no doubt that the 25-year-old has to be more decisive on a consistent basis, as two goals and four assists in 20 appearances so far this campaign is nowhere near enough for a player who has such an important, creative role in the side.

However, we’re starting to see more quality from him in the final third and he’s getting into dangerous positions more regularly where he can provide assists or offer a direct threat on goal himself, and that in itself is a positive sign that he is continuing to improve and develop his game both in terms of his understanding and positional awareness as well as his execution.

Nevertheless, the way in which he pressed and tracked back to really set the tempo and standard for the team was hugely impressive on Monday as he seemingly just doesn’t stop running.

It not only forced Lecce into making mistakes as they tried to play out from the back, but it implored his teammates to push up the pitch and join in the high press to allow us to win back possession quickly and in dangerous situations where we could inflict further damage.

Castillejo is not an elite player and based on what we’ve seen from him to this point, he probably won’t reach that level. Further, if there is a coaching change this summer, time will tell if Pioli’s successor is keen on ensuring he holds on to such an important role in the side.

That said, what he is proving at this stage is that he’s a crucial figure for us right now and we’re arguably a better team when he’s involved.

That is a big step for him in itself given for some time after his arrival from Villarreal it appeared as though he may well never be much more than a squad player, and it’s refreshing to see that the hard graft and commitment he puts in on the pitch is also seeing him rewarded with well-earned praise, especially after an impressive performance like the one we saw at Lecce where he was hugely influential in both phases of the game.