Thomas Tuchel signed Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid in the summer transfer window, but the Spanish midfielder has barely featured since arriving at Chelsea after a forgettable debut
When Saul Niguez signed for Chelsea on transfer deadline day, there was high hopes for the midfielder who had been a mainstay in Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side for so many years.
Saul had grown frustrated with being played in less natural positions, most notably out wide, and subsequently left Atletico on loan with just minutes to spare before the summer transfer window shut.
But the 26-year-old has barely featured following a nightmare debut which saw him play just 45 minutes against Aston Villa before being hooked at half-time.
Saul played 76 minutes in the EFL cup penalty shootout win against Aston Villa last month, while he came off the bench late on in the 4-0 victory over against Malmo last week.
But aside from his brief cameos, the Spaniard has been forced to wait patiently on the bench.
The midfielder took to Instagram after his debut to admit it wasn’t the debut he expected after giving possession away multiple times, showing a lack of intensity that Thomas Tuchel demands and consistently being caught out on the ball.
“Wasn’t the expected debut,” Saul wrote on the social media site, along with a picture of him with his new teammates.
“Really happy with my first game and victory with the team. Incredible to see Stamford Bridge full of Blues.”
Showing a lack of intensity was peculiar given a high work rate was the bare minimum playing under Simeone for all those years.
Saul, a centre midfielder by trade, would fit into Tuchel’s 3-5-2 system in the middle of the park, but the performances of the like of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante have kept him out the team.
The midfielder has played at left-back for the LaLiga side before, but a wing-back role in Tuchel’s system is unlikely to suit his style of play.
But Chelsea have reportedly already made their mind up on the midfielder and are reportedly unwilling to take up the option to sign Saul on a permanent basis.
According to Spanish outlet La Razon, the Blues are exploring other potential options for next summer and are interested in bringing Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic to Stamford Bridge.
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The 28-year-old’s contract expires in June, meaning he will be able to negotiate freely with other clubs from January onwards.
Newcatle and PSG are also said to be interested in Brozovic, who is reportedly demanding wages of around £100,000-a-week.
However, Tuchel recently insisted after Chelsea’s 3-1 win against Southampton that Saul still has a future at Stamford Bridge.
He said: “He does not need to worry. [He just needs to] work hard and adapt and the chances will come.
“We have only 11 [players] to give a chance. I would like to see it in a positive way.
“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.
“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 Saul, 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.
“I have to take the selection and take the responsibility for the selection, and eight players today did not like it. It is also 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.”
Whether Saul is given more of a chance at Stamford Bridge in the coming months remains to be seen, although it certainly won’t be easy for the midfielder to break into a side performing as well as they are.
But Tuchel’s apparent promise that he is closing in on getting some first-team minutes under his belt will be a relief to Saul after his rocky start to life in west London.
Now it is up to the Spain international to prove he is worthy of a place in Tuchel’s best starting XI, with competition for places more rife than ever at Stamford Bridge.