Chelsea signed Saúl Ñíguez on loan from Atlético Madrid on transfer deadline day to add another pair of capable legs into our midfield rotation. And we didn’t have to wait long to see the 26-year-old in action, with Thomas Tuchel giving him the starting nod on Saturday against Aston Villa.
Safe to say, that did not go as well as we had hoped. In fact, it went quite badly. Saúl looked weak, indecisive, and off the pace, and committed multiple very poor turnovers that put us into desperate defensive situations. We might have survived them unscathed (either in terms of goals or cautions), but clearly that won’t do in the future.
Tuchel wasn’t sugarcoating the performance itself, which he ended at half-time by putting on Jorginho, but the head coach did point out that it was perhaps too much too soon for the new arrival.
“He was struggling and I take responsibility for that. I put him into a difficult match after the international break and it was hard for him to adapt to the physicality and, in general, I had the feeling he struggled with the intensity and pressing with Aston Villa.
“It was also hard for him to adapt to our system and principles. So we thought, to give a bit more stability, we would change the shape to 5-3-2 in the second half with Jorginho. It was a tough one but he can accept that it is my responsibility and it’s maybe also normal.
“In training, it looked like he had no problem to adapt but that’s training. The game was very intense today because that is what Aston Villa made of it. The guy struggled a bit, there were some easy ball losses which is very, very unusual for him. That is why we decided before he lost more confidence that we make the change.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Tuchel’s willingness to change things up at half-time is certainly commendable, but Saúl’s shocking performance is not exactly something we can afford often, if at all.
On the plus side, he’s bound to only improve from here, right? After all, Eden Hazard tripped on the ball in his first Chelsea match, and Thiago Silva had an even more disastrous Premier League debut. Saúl has already acknowledged that his debut didn’t live up to expectations, but as someone “on a mission” to get his career out of “stagnation”, he will surely have better days ahead.
So say we all.