Saúl Ñíguez has not exactly made the sort of impact we might have expected of him after his dramatic deadline day loan acquisition from Atlético Madrid, but the 26-year-old highly experienced (and sometimes highly regarded) midfielder did have probably his best game for Chelsea yet in last night’s dramatic penalty shootout win over Southampton.
That may not be saying much, and none of Chelsea’s fringe players truly impressed in that match, but Saúl certainly wasn’t the worst of the lot — and did improve as the match went along, which allowed him to stay on and play the full-90 when others of a similar category got the hook from the head coach halfway through the second half (i.e. Hakim Ziyech and Ross Barkley).
In fact, for Thomas Tuchel, Saúl’s performance was a step in the right direction. And not even just a baby step.
“Was a good match, a huge step in the right direction for him. I am happy.
“We thought maybe he would be struggling with the intensity at the 70th minute but he got better and better, had chances and shots. We thought let’s keep him and give him the minutes. It was a good step for him.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Chelsea TV via Football.London
To his credit, Saúl didn’t look as badly off the pace as he had been in his previous appearances, and while he still gave away a few unnecessary fouls, he also seemed to have a better understanding with his teammates. He also popped up with a couple dangerous headers on corners showing off his advertised aerial prowess, and narrowly missed a presentable chance from the top of the box as well. So, a work in progress but with some progress in the works.
Saúl’s in no danger of unseating Jorginho, Mateo Kovačić, N’Golo Kanté, or even Ruben Loftus-Cheek at the moment, but with multiple fitness and injury concerns in that group already, the Atléti loanee could be in line for a few more chances in the near future — and perhaps another start in the next round of the League Cup!