In Focus: Saul can create a buzz by starring against Bees
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Tom Hancock
LiveScore
Saul Niguez is yet to hit top form at Chelsea after joining on loan from Atletico Madrid
Saul Niguez is yet to hit top form at Chelsea after joining on loan from Atletico Madrid

Saul Niguez only joined Chelsea in August and was already starting to feel like a forgotten man.

But the Atletico Madrid loanee produced arguably his best performance for the Blues so far as a half-time substitute in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Wolves.

So, could he be set for a bigger role going forward as he looks to make his loan move permanent at the end of the season?

As Thomas Tuchel’s side take on West London rivals Brentford in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals tonight, we investigate what the future holds for the Elche native.

Last to arrive

Saul made the switch to Stamford Bridge on deadline day, with his initial £3.4million loan deal including the option for Chelsea to buy the Spain international for £30m next summer.

He arrived with a wealth of top-level experience having made over 300 appearances for Atletico,  with whom he won the 2020-21 LaLiga title.

While small in monetary terms compared to the £97.5m Chelsea paid to bring Romelu Lukaku back to the club, Saul’s signing still felt like something of a statement. With hindsight, perhaps that was not the case.

Loaned out and left out

Saul actually played in Atleti’s first three games of the season — starting the first two — but he has found himself to be little more than a bit-part player at Chelsea.

Named in the squad for 22 of 23 games in all competitions since he joined the Blues, he has started just five and been an unused substitute 12 times.

Tuchel could hand Saul another start tonight, as he has in the previous two rounds, which could mark the beginning of a much-needed run in the side.

Saul Niguez's distribution has not been particularly effective in the final third this season
Saul Niguez's distribution has not been particularly effective in the final third this season

Blues boos

Saul attracted criticism for a poor showing off the bench in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Everton last Thursday but Tuchel has backed him to turn things around.

He said: "Does he feel that he is in the same role and responsibility as he had at Atletico? No, maybe not yet. Does he struggle? Yes, he struggles.

"Was he the first player to struggle in the Premier League? No and he won't be the last one. We protect our players and I will protect our players always.

"I understand people are disappointed after yesterday (against Everton), but reactions like this are the reasons why I am not involved on social media.

"I can only hope Saul does not read it and why should he? He knows what he needs to do to improve and he is doing everything.

"He struggles at the moment and we are still trying to find the best version of him and will not stop pushing."

Saul Niguez has mostly featured in central midfield for Chelsea, but not always in the same role as at Atletico Madrid
Saul Niguez has mostly featured in central midfield for Chelsea, but not always in the same role as at Atletico Madrid

Some festive cheer?

With five games in 18 days coming up — including the visit of Liverpool on January 2 — Tuchel is going to make use of his squad and rotate.

And that might be good news for the West Londoners’ No17, especially with Jorginho, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trevoh Chalobah, who Saul replaced on Sunday, all currently out of action or doubtful.

Saul’s only full 90 minutes in a Chelsea shirt so far came in October’s Carabao Cup fourth round penalty shootout victory over Southampton. Could that be about to change?

The defensive side of Saul Niguez's game has been a highlight since he moved to Stamford Bridge
The defensive side of Saul Niguez's game has been a highlight since he moved to Stamford Bridge

Look to the future now

It feels as though Saul’s time at Chelsea has only just begun — but the club will have a decision to make in six months.

Even if he has yet to demonstrate it in a blue shirt, Saul has shown himself to be a high-quality, complete midfielder. If the Blues can unlock that ability, taking up the option to buy him would seem a no-brainer.

On the flip side, a fit Jorginho and N’Golo Kante — recently returned from injury — are almost impossible to dislodge.

Even if Saul returns to his very best, there is no guarantee that he will start week-in, week-out.

Tags

ChelseaBrentfordLeague CupSaul Niguez
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