The big idea was that Saúl Ñíguez would be the experienced and versatile stunt double snapping up the minutes behind the trio of N’Golo Kanté, Mateo Kovačić, and Jorginho whenever one of them was injured or rested. That’s why Chelsea spent a great deal of effort to get him in on loan in the final hours of the summer transfer window, with a buy-option in place to boot, in case he made a telling impact in the process as well, and showed that his career wasn’t in significant decline at age 26 already.
As things stand however, he’s in no danger of making any such impact. In fact, Saúl has slid to the very bottom of the midfield pecking order, with as many minutes as Ross Barkley to his name, and half as many as Ruben Loftus-Cheek. But whereas Barkley was starting this weekend, two-thirds of Saúl’s minutes have come in the League Cup, and he hasn’t started in the Premier League or the Champions League in two months, since his very first (and rather terrible) appearance for the club.
But Saúl’s not ready to give up just yet. As per some insider rumbling by way of the Telegraph, there are no intentions by anyone to cut his loan short in January. Tuchel’s willing to give him and time and work with him individually, Saúl’s determined to make things work, and Atlético cannot afford to have him back anyway (and he can’t play for a third team as per FIFA rules).
The current international break is the last significant break in the match calendar for the next four months. It “could be the key moment” for Saúl at Chelsea, claims the report, which seems rather optimistic, but I suppose you never know — some players do just need to settle and come up to speed slowly.