Chelsea made a big effort to sign experienced midfielder and proven winner Saúl Ñíguez in the final hours of transfer deadline day, positioning him as a much needed fourth option to provide cover for N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovačić. And while we have indeed needed said cover, it’s been fringe players Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek who have been getting those minutes ahead of the on-loan Atlético Madrid man — and performing very well indeed.
Given Saúl’s underwhelming, to put it kindly, start to life at Chelsea, that’s not really surprising at all, but it does raise the question perhaps of why did we even bother with the loan, let alone the loan-to-buy option. These may be early returns, but right now Saúl’s in no danger of making anywhere near the impact Kovačić made — or revitalizing his career as Kova did — when arriving on a similar deal.
But the situation may not be as dire for Saúl as it may seem right now. As Tuchel revealed after Saturday’s 3-1 win over Southampton, he was very close to giving Saúl a chance before opting for players who, as he’s emphasized repeatedly, may not be feeling as much pressure to perform right now.
“I will always do my choices in the best belief for the team and best belief in this moment and for these type of games. There will always be tactical choices and choices of current form and of connections on the field.
“Particularly about Saúl, he was very, very close to start today. In the end I decided against him because I thought to put him in another high pressing match, an opponent pressing so high in the centre of the pitch, would it be fair to say ‘okay, now prove it and let’s see if your adaption has gone further’ and I hesitated a little bit.
The trouble for Saúl however could be that those who got the nod against Southampton performed very well — both Loftus-Cheek from the start and Barkley off the bench — and Tuchel has not shied away from going with the in-form players.
But Saúl’s attitude is said to be good, and if he keeps working hard, we’ll undoubtedly be hearing from him in the near future as well.
“He does not need to worry. Just work hard and adapt and the chances will come.
“We have only 11 to give a chance [and] if you turn it around of course you have eight players who we didn’t trust today from the beginning. This is a reality. I cannot hide from this reality. [This is] life at Chelsea and we have to keep on going and keep everyone positive.
“The guys have to work for their form because form is most important – form and confidence and a positive attitude. He has everything.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
It’s a long season with lots of games still on tap. And we’ve already had to deal with injuries and positive tests in the squad, so there should be opportunities for all to stake a claim. The key for Saúl, like for everyone else, will be to step up and produce when that call comes.