Casper Nilsson says training with the first team has shown him how much hard work he needs to put in to be at that level every day.
The Swedish defender was speaking ahead of the under-21s’ home game on Sunday against Wolves in Premier League 2, kick off 4pm.
The former Malmo right-back has worked his way into Shannon Ruth’s team this season and has been rewarded with opportunities to train with Roberto De Zerbi’s squad.
“I was in and out of the team and sometimes not even in the squad at the beginning of the season. I kept pushing and after a while I got into the team and I am working hard to improve and keep my place,” he said.
“I’ve trained with the first team a few times. I wasn’t used to the physical side and you have to think before you get the ball because otherwise you’ll lose it as someone comes and presses you so quickly. You have to think about every step you’re taking – it’s about being prepared.
“It’s a big difference, the tempo is much higher and the quality is a lot better. It’s good for your development and prepare you for the next step.”
But who has Casper found to be the most difficult opponent in the first-team environment?
“The first time I played against Kaoru [Mitoma], he went past me a few times but recently I have improved and I think I am harder to get past. The other week I took the ball from him so that’s a good step.
MA+ members & STH only - Log-in required
“You realise how much work you need to put in on every aspect of your game to get to that level because the step up is really big."
Nilsson’s focus is firmly on helping the under-21s round off the campaign as best as they can.
They sit ninth in PL2 and are into the knockout stages of the Premier League International Cup as well as the semi-finals of the Sussex Senior Cup.
“I want us to do well in Premier League 2 and climb up the table, reach the final of the International Cup and to retain the Sussex Senior Cup – those are our aims,” he added. “Personally, I want to train with the first team more to help my development.”