The persistent rumours linking either Declan Rice or Aurelien Tchouameni to Chelsea over the summer meant that when Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, the reaction was mixed to say the least.
In fairness to Saul, few have doubted his quality.
The Spaniard is an adept technician with an eye for a cutting pass, coupled with an ability to both finish and tackle – see his outstanding solo goal against Bayern Munich as a palette stimulator for what he can bring to the table.
However, under the guidance of Diego Simeone, Saul has transitioned from an attacking prospect to a midfield general, combining defensive acumen with his initial attacking instinct to become a well-defined midfielder.
In order to analyse exactly how Saul would fit in with Chelsea’s current crop of players, analysis of his 2020/21 season standout statistics in comparison with existing Chelsea midfielders should highlight what he would bring to Thomas Tuchel’s European Champions.
It’s worth mentioning that Saul has been playing under a slightly less progressive coaching team than those at Chelsea, therefore his pass volume will inevitably be slightly lower.
Across the 2020/21 season, Jorginho averaged 67.7 passes per 90 minutes (pp90) with a 90.8% accuracy, N’Golo Kante 53.71 pp90 with a 89.2% accuracy and Mateo Kovacic 74.64 pp90 with a 91% passing accuracy.
As expected, Saul completed just 45.87 pp90 with an accuracy of 86.6%.
In much the same vein, Saul’s 1.75 long passes per 90 (lpp90) with an accuracy of 56.4% pales in comparison to Jorginho’s 5.4 lpp90 with a 60% pass accuracy and Kovacic’s 5.35 lpp90 with a 69.7% pass accuracy.
Even Kante, who is not considered a master passer, averaged 2.94 lpp90 with an accuracy of 68.2% – far superior to Saul.
It can be easy to look at these passing statistics and assume that Saul would not improve Chelsea dramatically. However, there is little debate surrounding the Spaniard’s technical ability and it would be fair to assume that, in a more progressive system, his passing statistics would improve.
So, what would he bring that is better than what Chelsea currently have?
There has been an emphasis on Chelsea needing goals from midfield. Despite the wealth of attacking options, Chelsea fans will attest to the fact that it would be a pleasant surprise to see a central midfielder that is not Mason Mount take the occasional shot.
Of Chelsea’s midfielders, Kovacic averaged the highest shots on target per match last season with 0.91. Saul would offer a decent upgrade with his 1.17 shots on target per 90 that he averaged across Atletico’s title-winning campaign.
Rather surprisingly, Saul would come into Chelsea’s squad with an ability to compete for aerial duels that far exceeds what Chelsea currently have.
Saul’s 6.32 aerial duels with a 46.7% success rate outshines Jorginho’s 1.62 with 34% win rate.
Kovacic’s 1.22 and Kante’s 1.95 aerial duel rate respectively leaves a lot to be desired with both not matching Saul’s win rate, with the Croat’s 45% win rate and the Frenchman’s 35% win rate far less than Chelsea would hope.
Over the course of last season, Saul contested for more ground duels than any Chelsea midfielder with 21.62 ground duels per 90 minutes topping Kante’s 20.36 ground duels per 90 minutes.
That being said, Kante’s 52% success rate tops Saul’s 46.4%. However, it is Kante after all.
A move away from the statistics can also be useful. Having won domestic and European silverware including a league title last season, Saul fits the mentality mould at Chelsea. A tenacious winner with European and international pedigree is precisely what Chelsea look for.
Simeone’s ferocious management style inevitably seeps into his players, useful for anyone looking to make the switch to the Premier League.
Saul may be an unassuming curveball of a transfer, but that does not mean he wouldn’t add significant depth and quality to Chelsea’s midfield
Let’s not forget, Saul has been a regular starter for Atletico in the league and Champions League for the past five years and he would be coming into Chelsea as the fourth choice midfielder – not bad.
This deal is a win-win for Chelsea. Loaning in a player of Saul’s calibre for one season as additional cover and competition in the midfield mirrors Filipe Luís’ role in Jose Mourinho’s title-winning Chelsea of 2015.
Equally, if the move is a success, then the club will have themselves a midfielder with a wealth of experience at the top level for, what would probably be, a lesser price than that of West Ham’s Rice. If the move does not work, then Saul can return to Atletico having been a fourth-choice midfielder and the club move on to different targets.
Whether he is a stop-gap or a potential future signing, Saul is a perfectly good loan signing.
Chelsea have spent over £100 million this summer therefore a loan deal is the intelligent choice, meaning next summer the club could go all out for a long-term midfield option, whoever they may be.
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Source by Football London