The resurgence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, two of Chelsea’s forgotten men, has left Thomas Tuchel in a quandary regarding one of his new summer recruits.
Saul Niguez, signed from Atletico Madrid on loan on transfer deadline day by the Blues, hasn’t played in the Premier League since his debut against Aston Villa when he was hooked after 45 minutes by Tuchel having struggled in the Blues midfield.
He earned another start in the Carabao Cup clash against the same opposition and got 15 minutes more than previous but again struggled before being replaced.
Against Juventus, Saul remained an unused substitute as both Loftus-Cheek and Barkley were introduced ahead of him.
Then against Southampton, with N’Golo Kante ruled out after testing positive for Covid-19 and Jorginho named on the bench, Saul was again unused as Loftus-Cheek started and Jorginho and Barkley both came off the bench.
Chelsea needed central midfield cover in the summer after gruelling campaigns for Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Kante, with all three starring for the Blues in their run to Champions League glory and securing a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Tuchel also allowed Billy Gilmour to join Norwich City on loan for the season so lost an extra body there and explained why he opted to sign Saul a couple of days after the signing was confirmed.
“As you know we agreed for Billy Gilmour to go to Norwich and get football at the highest level,” he said. “He was our fourth midfielder last season, now with COVID situation, for a long time with the Euros and Copa America I was a bit concerned to go into the season with Jorginho, N’Golo and Mateo.
“Not because of lack of quality or character – I am the happiest coach to have these three guys. It is unpredictable, we have a Club World Cup to play in December, there are many games to come. Nobody knows exactly most of the time, two of the three guys play. Once you have one injured, one suspended, you are in danger of overloading players.”
But it hasn’t panned out for Saul, who was deemed surplus to requirements by Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone having made 340 appearances for the Spanish side including in the Champions League quarter-finals against the Blues last season.
Chelsea are believed to have an option to buy in the loan for Saul but, right now, that isn’t likely to be exercised.
Following underwhelming loans for Loftus-Cheek and Barkley last season at Fulham and Aston Villa last season, the expectation was this summer that the two would be allowed to leave if an offer came in for them.
Loftus-Cheek had a solid if unspectacular pre-season while Barkley barely had a kick but the latter, especially, has impressed with cameos off the bench, with Tuchel turning to him in Turin to find an equaliser.
The former Everton midfielder should have had an assist at the Allianz Stadium but Romelu Lukaku blazed over Chelsea’s best chance of the night, a chance he should have buried.
Tuchel turned to Barkley again with the game against Southampton locked at 1-1 last weekend and the Blues needing an X-factor to break down the ten-man visitors who had seen James Ward-Prowse sent off.
Barkley had a big impact as he fizzed a fabulous pass from the middle of the pitch out to the right where Cesar Azpilicueta had busted a gut to get to near the byline and crossed first time for Timo Werner to put the home side 2-1 up and on path to the top of the Premier League heading into the international break.
Tuchel was asked post-match about his decision to introduce Barkley from the bench and start academy graduate Loftus-Cheek ahead of Saul, who according to reports in Spain is already starting to feel uneasy at his lack of minutes in west London.
“He [Saul] was very, very close to starting,” Tuchel said.
“In the end, I decided against him because I thought to put him in another high pressing match, against 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?’
“I hesitated a little bit. He does not need to worry. Just work hard and adapt and the chances will come.
“We have only 11 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.”
Tuchel called out under-performing stars Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech at the weekend after they were both dropped following a series of poor outings. He hasn’t gone so far as to call out Saul as the 26-year-old is very early into his Blues career and, as it stands, is only at the club for a year.
If Saul can take anything from his current malaise it is that he will have seen Tuchel give opportunities to Loftus-Cheek and Barkley, admittedly both have been at the club far longer than he has but Tuchel only met them for the first time at pre-season training in July.
Tuchel has said Saul does not need to worry and another chance for the Spaniard is likely to come in the Carabao Cup fourth-round tie against Southampton later this month after the international break.
It’s a chance for Saul once again to show he can belong in the English game but he certainly has some unexpected obstacles now in front of him as he tries to get his career back on track.
Source by Football London