Saúl Ñíguez did not make it past half-time in his first ever Premier League start, in his competitive debut for Chelsea. It was a terrible, confused, error-strewn performance back in early September, well off the tempo of the game. At the time, we acknowledged that he was still getting acclimated to the new league and his new surroundings, barely ten days after signing on loan from Atlético Madrid. It was too soon. He held up his hand and got back to work. He clearly needed more time.
Nearly three months later, Saúl got trusted with a second start. The returns were perhaps even worse. Ineffective, to be generous. Anonymous, yet also almost sent off with lazy tackles after an early yellow card. Still off the pace. Clearly, he needs more time.
But time he does not have. We have none to give. Today, we survived his 45 minutes of Bakayoko-ian action. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were his last minutes, at least for a good while. (And it’s not like Atlético are busting down our doors to take him back in January...)
Asked what might come next for the 27-year-old after this ultimately fortunate win, head coach Thomas Tuchel was at a loss.
“I don’t know where he goes from this performance.”
“He was on a yellow card so we had two options [at half time]: take Marcos [Alonso] off who also had a yellow card and try Saul as a wing-back. I had this in my mind before the game, if something happened to Marcos.
“I thought maybe it was not the right match to try things with new positions so it was him to change the shape a little bit and have Thiago on the pitch with his organising.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
As it turns out, Tuchel was not only hoping to get a good game out of Saúl amidst an injury crisis, but he was hoping to try the versatile midfielder in the left wing-back role at some point as well. As ironic as that would’ve been — part of the reason Saúl left Atléti was because he didn’t want to play on the flanks — we never got the chance to see it. Saúl played so badly (even relative to the rest of the badly playing team), that the plan had to be scrapped. Literally playing himself out of the team.
Looks like he can safely turn his phone off for a while. Better call someone else.