Osasuna legend Ion Andoni Goikoetxea provides an analysis column in the team's matchday programme and he was in no doubt as to the identity of the key man for weekend visitors Almeria. His predictions was that Suso, serving a one-match ban after picking up five yellow cards, would be sorely missed at El Sadar. As it turned out, the Liverpool loanee's team-mates managed a smash-and-grab 1-0 win without him to make it three consecutive victories for the newly-promoted side. It seems Almeria, like Suso himself, are blossoming in La Liga.
When Brendan Rodgers first took over as Liverpool manager in the summer of 2012, the young Spaniard quickly caught his eye. He was introduced to the first-team squad and given his Premier League debut at Anfield against Manchester United that September. A promising future was predicted and the attacking midfielder became something of a poster boy for the Rodgers regime - a symbol of his intent to institute a change of philosophy.
"Suso makes things happen," said Rodgers at the time. "He is tactically very good and strong technically with the ball. I love that type of player.He knows he still has a lot to learn but he's a good kid. He has got a really good appetite for the game. He is on the same page in terms of the tactical idea for the team. If his fight matches his talent then we will have a very good player."
Despite going on to feature in a further 13 Premier League matches after being thrown in against United, Suso failed to complete the full 90 minutes in any of his appearances. He showed glimpses of the quality that had earmarked him for stardom, but - playing in a position that Rodgers had memorably described as "a false winger, that seven-and-a-half role" - it proved a steep learning curve. Suso scored no goals and claimed no assists.
Rodgers had initially refused to allow the player to go on loan abroad last season, but by March he was forced to reassess the situation. "Does he actually have to go and play somewhere for a year and get experience?" he asked. "Does he need to show he can go and get goals and create goals and then we know what we have?" Well, Suso has gone on loan to the Spanish top flight with Almeria and is doing just that.
As Goikoetxea suggested, it is no exaggeration to describe Suso as the star turn for the Andalusian side this season. As assist on debut against Villarreal was followed by another impressive performance at Getafe and a great goal from long range in a man-of-the-match display against Levante. More recently, Suso has provided three assists in his last four appearances, including the equaliser in the victory at Valencia and the cross for the only goal of the game in the win over Valladolid.
|La Liga 2013/14 - Assists|
|Gareth Bale||Real Madrid||5|
His tally of assists for the season now stands at five. It's a mark only bettered by Koke, Neymar and Cesc Fabregas. Given that those players turn out for the current top two in the division, it is a huge credit to Suso that he is achieving such numbers in a relatively struggling side. Prior to the weekend, only 10 players from clubs in the bottom half of the table had produced more key passes than the 19-year-old playmaker.
Much of those passes have been provided from wide positions on either the left or the right, where his close control has caused problems for full-backs. Following his efforts against Valladolid last week, there were only six players in the entire Primera Liga - including the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar - with more completed dribbles. And yet, the man himself still eyes a central role. "My position is as a naturally deep-lying forward but I will play wherever the coach wants me - on either wing or in midfield," said Suso upon his arrival at Almeria.
This hints at a growing maturity. And Suso has had to grow up fast. After being involved for Spain at the European Under-19 Championships in 2012, he went straight into a tough pre-season in England. Then there was the U-20 World Cup in Turkey in the summer before joining Almeria for their anticipated relegation battle. And yet, he has responded. If his season in the Premier League was the making of him physically, it seems a year in La Liga could be the making of him mentally.
That offers the tantalising prospect of Suso returning to Liverpool next term as a far superior player to the one that left Melwood in the summer. The technical and tactical proficiency that so intrigued Rodgers, allied with an experience of regular senior football and the ability to effect the game for his team. "I think his best position is that number 10 role and we'll nurture that over the next couple of years," said the Liverpool boss last season. After such a hugely encouraging start to the campaign, the likelihood of Suso fulfilling that role in a Liverpool shirt has dramatically increased.