Liverpool are flying high in the Premier League and scoring goals for fun, and so it is easy to forget that things were quite a bit different 12 months ago.
A year ago last weekend, the Reds lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa to stay stuck in 10th place in the table.
The reason for the underachievement was seen by many as a lack of experienced attacking support for lone forward Luis Suarez, with youngsters Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey and Suso all asked to get forward alongside the Uruguayan following the sale of Andy Carroll, injury to Fabio Borini and the fact that it would be January before the arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
Huge pressure was heaped on the Spaniard as well as his fellow teenager Sterling as they were charged with scoring the goals which would back up Suarez, but by the turn of the year the only strike that the pair had managed between them was Sterling’s goal in a 1-0 win over Reading in October.
It was obvious to many that both players needed time to develop, and after being taken out of the team by Brendan Rodgers at the beginning of 2013, the duo have followed different paths as they've sought that development.
Sterling stayed with the squad and is beginning to see his talent come to fruition regularly―he’s scored two goals in his last three games―but Spaniard Suso headed back to his homeland to spend the 2013/14 season on loan at Almeria.
Although the campaign hasn't always gone smoothly for the Andalusian club following their promotion to La Liga last May―they are currently 17th in the table and only three points from the foot of the division―Suso has impressed during his time in Spain’s deep south.
A look at the attacking midfielder’s statistics on WhoScored.com instantly tells you that he’s developed something of a ruthless streak in his time away from Anfield, earning six bookings to rank alongside one of the division’s hard men in Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos.
He’s managed to score his first two senior goals too, but it is in his creation of chances for others that he’s really stood out during the campaign, something that will no doubt please those at his parent club who will be watching on closely.
With his tally of five assists in La Liga this season, Suso has just one fewer than Real Madrid’s world record signing Gareth Bale, the same amount as Bale’s teammate Karim Benzema and, whisper it quietly, one more than both Cristiano Ronaldo and the admittedly injured Lionel Messi (Statbunker).
Unlike those stellar names above though, Suso is playing in a struggling team, with that tally of five assists and two goals coming for an outfit who have managed to find the net just 16 times in their 16 matches in La Liga this season.
Being directly involved in almost half of his team’s goals is certain to have had an effect on the youngster then, with an increase in responsibility sure to stand him in good stead when he returns to a Liverpool outfit that have created chances and scored goals aplenty this season.
Despite that though, there is a strong belief that Suso is currently doing what is best for his career by staying away from the Reds.
Last month, Sky Sports reported on the impressive progress the former Cadiz youth player has made since his return to Spain, and if his second half of the season can be as strong as his first then Liverpool are sure to be getting a very talented player back when he returns to their squad ahead of 2014/15.
There are still question marks over his ability to sustain his performance level over 90 minutes―he has been substituted in half of Almeria’s last 10 games―but that is only normal for a player who only turned 20 last month.
He looks certain to be returning to Merseyside as a better player following his Almeria experiences, and there will be plenty at Liverpool who’ll be glad to see him back when he does.
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