Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáez de la Torre is the full name of the player better known to the world as Suso. The Spain international and former wonderkid out of Cádiz has cumulated 14 club appearances for Liverpool, 33 for Almeria, 19 for Genoa and 126 for Milan, where he spent the last three and a half years.
He has recently been sent to Sevilla on an 18-month loan with an option to buy, that would become non-optional if certain objectives are met, for a fee that is estimated to be around €25 million.
At Sevilla, the 26-year-old was reunited with Julen Lopetegui, the former Spain national football team head coach that awarded Suso with his debut on the international stage.
A left-footed attacking player, Suso’s main fit is naturally as an inverted right-winger, where he could use his ball skills and technique to create opportunities of breaking inside and using his main foot to shoot the football.
The graphic above represents the heatmap for Suso at Milan in the season of 2019/20. It highlights the tendency of the Spain international to come off the right flank of the attack and threaten the box whether with runs inside or down the wing.
His heatmap for Sevilla, so far, is not much different than that for his former club. The main area of focus is about the same as at Milan, from the wing into a central position, just outside the box, where he could utilise his left-footed shot.
The main change in positioning at Sevilla that can be spotted in the two graphics above is the drop in runs down the wing. The focus area highlights it perfectly, with a curve-shaped trajectory that seems restricted laterally as it gets closer to the penalty box, moving from wide to central.
This serves Suso’s game and Sevilla’s tactics better, as he’s much more of a threat to pass the ball, cross or shoot it with his left foot than he is with his right. Therefore, he’s better off occupying the half-space in front of the box instead of carrying the ball down the wing.
High-volume, low-xG shots
Perhaps it is a bit unusual to start a tactical analysis with a negative trait of the player. However, this is a bit of a defining trait of Suso’s style of play, and perhaps more importantly, it will serve in putting some of his other traits and strengths in a better context. That being said, let’s dive into the numbers!
So far at Sevilla, Suso has taken a total of five shots; three of those shots were on target, for an impressive 60% SoT (Shots on Target percentage), and he already has scored one goal. These are impressive numbers at an impressive rate, but given the way-too-small sample size, probably inflated and not reflective of the actual truth.
It’s another number, however, that stands out, and that is 0.04. That’s the number of Suso’s xG/shot (Expected Goals per shot), which, for those that might not be familiar enough with it, measures the average number of goals that could be expected to be scored for any given shot the player takes.
In other words, on average, a Suso shot (out of those taken for Sevilla so far) is expected to reach the back of the net at a 4% rate.
In the small sample size we have to work with, those numbers add up to a 0.20 total xG for Suso in the 2019/20 La Liga season. The G-xG (the difference between total of goals scored and total Expected Goals) would then be a positive, and therefore impressive, +0.80. The number would suggest that the Spain international is better at converting his shots taken into goals than your average shot-taker.
But let’s throw in Suso’s numbers, when at Milan. In the 2019/20 Serie A season, the 26-year-old winger has taken 31 shots, at a 38.7 SoT% rate and with an average of 0.04 xG/shot, scoring only 1 goal. The G-xG drops to a -0.3, which would put Suso below the average shot-taker.
Last year, in the 2018/19, he has taken a total of 91 shots, at a 41.8 SoT% rate, on an average of 0.04 xG/shot, scoring 7 goals. His G-xG looked much better last year, at an impressive +3.3. However, it’s the constant xG/shot that’s concerning. Through two seasons tracked, he has maintained his xG/shot at 0.04. That seems like a low figure, so let’s place it in a little bit of context.
Over the course of the 2019/20 La Liga season, out of all 200 players with enough minutes played to qualify (that is at least 50% of the team’s total minutes), there are only two players averaging an xG/shot of 0.04 or less and an average of over 1.0 shots/90 (that is an average of shots taken per 90 minutes played). Suso is averaging that number on a 1.98 shots/90 rate.
In other words, Suso is taking a too-high volume of shots at a too-low xG average, and that is alarming. It puts too much pressure on him to be a high-quality shot-taker, and the recent numbers seems to suggest he is not anymore. His 0.05 G/Sh (goals per shot taken) for this year, across both La Liga and Serie A, is lower than it has been in each of his previous three seasons. He averaged 0.08 in 2015/16 and 2017/18, and 0.06 in 2016/17.
Being an inverted winger, that is a left-footed player who is intentionally being played on the right-wing of the formation, to be able to cut with the ball inside and use his left foot to shoot, he is supposed to take lower xG shots by nature. In turn, he is expected to balance that with, first, high-quality shot-taking, and secondly, by shooting the ball in favourable situations.
He fails at doing both, in the frame above, and it highlights some of the issues with the high-volume and low-xG bad trait he developed over the years, caused by not raising his head to see the entire field.
Despite having three teammates inside the box, and another three great passing options outside of it, he never raises his head to scan the field, but instead goes blindly into taking the shot from outside the box.
He neglects the right-back overlapping him wide that would be open for the through pass, he neglects the player opening up right at the edge of the box in a good, central position. And he ignores the left-back wide open on the opposite edge of the box. The shot goes wide, and a good attacking opportunity is wasted.
In the frame above, Suso is way too wide and far away from the goal to shoot. Furthermore, he has one defender closing in on him, in a good position to block the shot.
He fails to recognise what his passing options are as he never raises his head to look for it. He also neglects the option to carry the ball further inside into a more advantageous position and instead settles for a shot from far away. As expected, the ball never makes it past the blocking defender and he wastes another opportunity for his team.
In the picture above, his team is tied, at home, and is chasing the three points in the stoppage minutes of the game, with an attack deep into the opponent’s half. Suso receives the ball in a wide position, and he does a good job of carrying it inside into a central position. It’s what happens next that fails him, and more importantly, his team.
Leaving his marker slightly behind, he once again drops his eyes, failing to recognize what’s happening on the field. He sees the shot, and nothing else, including the four defenders in good positions to block the shot and even more importantly, the wide-open passing option he has inside the box.
His progressive carry was enough to draw the attention of the defence, but it’s his lack of focus that makes him miss on the opportunity created, and instead send off a shot that is easily picked up by the goalkeeper.
Perhaps it’s better, for Sevilla, that they get him at a time where not only his shot quality has regressed, but also his volume, accordingly. He went from averaging 2.91 shots per game, to 2.96, 2.70, and then finally, this year, 1.98. That’s almost a full shot less per game he averages now, compared to two years ago.
Considering his quality and shot selection haven’t improved, the drop in shots per game comes as a big positive. Especially considering some of the strengths he has to offer, which we’ll talk about in a moment, it could help him fit better withing Lopetegui’s tactics and produce a better output for his new team.
If we can agree that shot-taking is not one of Suso’s best traits, at least not anymore, creating shots for his teammates, or in other words, playmaking is a bit of a different story.
When he does raise his head and opens his eyes to read the field, he does a great job as a playmaker, and the numbers are backing that up. Moving from Milan to Sevilla, he maintained his average of 2.3 key passes (passes that lead to a shot) per 90. This would place him as the best playmaker in the Sevilla squad, and league-wise, among players with enough minutes played, would rank him right below Lionel Messi (averaging 2.6 key passes per 90) and in the same tier with players such as Martin Ødegaard.
His through ball attempts have increased from 1.49 at Milan, completed at a 33.3% rate, up to 6.43 completed at a 40% rate.
His PPA (passes completed into opponent’s penalty box) saw another huge raise, from 2.98 per 90 at Milan, which among qualifying players would rank him 2nd in the league, to 4.33 in Lopetegui’s squad. That number, among qualifying players, would place him as the undoubtedly highest-ranked player in the league in the category. The current best player in La Liga is Lionel Messi, who averages 3.53 PPA per 90 minutes played.
In the picture above, Suso receives the ball with space in front of him. Instead of attacking it by carrying the ball, he settles for what the defence gives him and uses the space between the lines to try a through ball.
The timing is perfect and the angle precise, and so the ball meets the intended teammate right outside of the six-yard box and in a great position to shoot.
In this other example, he attacks the defence from wide into a central position, dribbling past two defenders in the process. This time, keeping his head up high, he is able to see the centre-back reacting to his movement and breaking the line, with his teammate going for a run behind that. He follows it with a through pass, that just barely misses to connect into a great position to score from.
In the frame above, he drops back to offer depth and opens himself up to receive the pass, which arrives. This draws in two defenders, with the right-back overlapping on the wing, running into wide open space.
He sees it all happening, and he plays the through pass immediately, leaving his teammate into a great position to attack the box. He uses his dropped-back positioning and the leverage against the defence to create a great play for his team, showing he does have good field vision when he raises his eyes, and his passing skills are top notch.
In the picture above, he’s cutting inside from the wing, only this time, his eyes are on what’s going on inside the box, rather than on the ball and ready to take a shot.
He can count the three runners attacking the box. The near-side attacker, the one closest to him, is tightly marked by a defender. The central one is closely defended by two players. That leaves the third one, attacking the far post, who Suso sees is way ahead of his marker, making him a great option for the cross.
He then delivers this beauty of a cross, reaching his teammate who from that great position sends the ball in the back of the net, scoring to take the lead.
Minutes later, from that exact same spot, he now sees only one teammate attacking the box, at the near post. Already in a great position that provides a good angle for the near post, instead of a cross he sends a low pass cutting through the whole defence, and the ball finds his teammate just outside of the six-yard box, ready to send off a shot.
Hunger for space
No matter where he finds himself on the field, Suso always shows the natural appetite for finding pockets of space to occupy and receive the ball. To do so, he has a whole arsenal of moves. From dropping tighter to his teammate, to moving inside into half-spaces, to staying wide and behind the ball to keep distance of his marker and receive it facing the goal.
His movement skills are of high quality and he understands the natural movement patterns of his teammates and his opponents as well, so he can use it to set them up with passes when he has the opportunity to do so.
In the frame above, he breaks off from the line and settles in the open space just as his teammate turns around after receiving the ball. He does this to make sure he is seen by his teammate before the defence.
From that position, he can now use the space to find the next course of action before the defence has time to react again.
He does so by turning immediately towards the goal, scanning the field quickly and realizing one of the centre-backs is out of position. His movement has caused the defence to be off for just a second, which he now can exploit with the through pass he sends to meet his teammate running behind the back-line and inside the box.
In this other example, he catches the defence being too relaxed and passive in their stance. He sees the opportunity and he drops back, running into the pocket of wide open space in midfield.
To make sure he is properly positioned, as highlighted above, his eyes are on the defenders as he glances to check they haven’t caught on to him. Now, he’s wide open and ready to receive the pass from his teammate.
His movement forces the centre-back to freeze, again, and be out of position to react to the runner behind him. Suso sees it this time as well, and before the defence can do anything, he launches his through pass.
The referee eventually blows his whistle for an offside position, but if not for the attacker being a little too early, this would’ve been another great play from Suso, with a pass that would’ve found the runner in the middle of the penalty box, all alone against the goalkeeper.
In the example above, he looks over his shoulder as he tracks back, but this time looking for a teammate. He needs to time his drop into the pocket with the run of his right-back behind the defence.
He does so well, and the right-back threatening down the wing forces the opponent’s left-back, Suso’s initial marker, to drop as well and take care of the bigger threat. This leaves Suso wide open to receive the ball, turn towards the goal to have the whole field in front of him and look for the next pass.
The frame shown above is an even more impressive of movement skills displayed by the Spain international. Initially inside the box, with the highlighted defender out of the frame, he is settling into the pocket of space created in the middle of the box.
Then, the highlighted defender tracks back trying to recover and prevent the pass to Suso. At this moment, with a great presence of mind, Suso uses the momentum of the Juventus defender against him, as he drops back into the space created behind him.
The move eventually takes the winger out of the box, but more importantly, it allows the much needed space to take his shot, and it shows exactly how capable of moving off-the-ball to get in good positions to receive it Suso really is.
In this other instance, Suso is using a little intelligent trick. He is staying intentionally in an offside position, to keep the defence from paying attention to him and considering him a threat.
At the last second, when he knows his teammate is ready to pass, he breaks off of that position and falls back inside into the open space to receive the ball.
From there, the defence is forced to react quickly, and by catching them unprepared, he can fasten the pace of the attack either advancing with the ball at his feet or looking for a better passing option.
As highlighted above multiple times, his off-ball movement is top-notch. He understands how to leverage his position into tricking the defence and creating space for himself, he knows how to time his movement with that of his teammates and he knows how to take advantage of confusion in the back-line.
Even more importantly, he is also great at acting as a pivot, to afford his teammates the same opportunity of creating and settling into space, and then setting them up with passes. He can operate well within and behind the lines, and more impressively, he can do so at a quick pace.
If his off-the-ball movement skills have proven already to be up to the task, let’s take a look at what he can do as a ball carrier.
The 26-year-old winger has shown to possess good technical abilities to be effective off the dribble. He has clean and superb ball control and a lowered center of gravity, which makes it difficult for defenders to effectively tackle him in space.
While his fouls drawn/90 have steadily declined, from 2.42 in 2017/18 to 2.37 in 2018/19, to now 1.00 per 90 minutes played at Sevilla, that is mostly due to being smarter and more effective at choosing when to dribble, and when to use the space in other ways, such as to pass the ball to an open teammate.
In fact, his dribbling numbers have actually gone up. At Milan, he was averaging 3.44 dribble attempts/90 in the current season, and last year 3.80/90. At Sevilla, he has increased that number to an average of 4.33/90 dribbles attempted. His success rate of 61.5% at Sevilla shows some small signs of decline but is still an above-average figure.
He has good acceleration and quickness, and this allows him to operate well in tight spaces. He is not necessarily a trickster with the ball, but he can occasionally surprise his opponent with some skill-showing.
In the picture above, he first settles into the tight space to receive the ball, then waits as he draws in the defenders closer to him. He does this willingly, knowing where he wants to go with the ball as his next move.
Using his body to protect himself and the ball from the defender attacking him from behind, he waits for the central defender to close off the space as well.
As he does, the defender falls right into his trap, and the Spain international is quick to sneak the ball through the defender’s legs, leaving him behind while he continues to attack the box with the ball at his feet.
One of his go-to moves is that of attacking a defender in a one-on-one, maintaining tight control of the ball to keep it close to his foot. He attacks until there is virtually no space between the two and the defender is forced to try and initiate contact, moment in which Suso uses his quickness to break with the ball laterally.
This move is particularly good at using it to create shot opportunities, near the box. In the frame above, he is using it to set up the first goal scored for his new team. He moves straight ahead towards the defender, at a quick pace.
This causes his opponent to freeze and plant his feet, trying to then tackle the Sevilla player. Right before he has a chance to do so, Suso reacts by sending the ball to the side and following it past the Espanyol defender, and from that position, he is able to send it into the back of the net.
The 26-year-old winger is also good at using subtle body moves, such as faints or fakes, to trick and confuse his opponents, then dribble past them.
In the picture above, Suso is quick to attack the defender in a one-on-one situation, inside the box. He closes out the space in a hurry, and then he fakes the shot with his right foot.
This tricks the defender into prematurely throwing himself at the ball trying to block the shot. It then leaves a very good opportunity for Suso to continue his dribble past the defender with no problems and attack the goal.
At the age of 26 and reunited with the head coach that offered him his international debut for Spain, Suso has a good chance of showing he still has the talent to impose himself as a starter into a quality team in European football.
This scout report aimed to convince you that the Spanish winger still has more to offer in terms of playmaking to be an effective player in Lopetegui’s squad.
While his playing style doesn’t make him a threat as a behind-the-defence runner and instead forces him to settle for more low-xG shots, meaning he will never be a quality goal scorer, Suso has other tools at his disposal to use into creating those goal scoring opportunities for his teammates instead. And that is, as this tactical analysis proves, never a quality to be overlooked.