Marina Granovskaia sent £30m Chelsea transfer warning with Watford nightmare repeated – Daniel Childs


I felt like I had lived this nightmare before.

Vicarage Road under the lights, an injury-depleted Watford and a disastrous performance from Chelsea in a game they should be dominant.

This had all the ingredients of that horrendous night under Antonio Conte in February 2018 where the Blues were battered 4-1 by an out-of-form Hornets as the season quickly derailed post-Christmas. One of the other infamous parts of that disaster was the performance of Tiémoué Bakayoko, who picked up two yellow cards in the opening 30 minutes.

The maligned Bakayoko disappeared down the tunnel, booed by sections of the away support.

That was the start of the French midfielder’s downfall after his signing from Monaco and since then he has been on a series of loans across Europe, without ever looking like returning.

In 2021, the role of Bakayoko was played by Saul Niguez.

The Spaniard was given only his second Premier League start of the season since signing on loan from Atletico Madrid on transfer deadline day back in September.

Saul’s debut at home to Aston Villa was disastrous, looking off the pace required for the speed of English football, consistently out of position and pounced on by the opposition.

On his second start, it was disastrous, looking off the pace required for the speed of English football, consistently out of position and pounced on by the opposition.

The 27-year-old was hooked at half-time, shielded from any more embarrassment and has mainly been an afterthought in the months since.



Saul Niguez had another poor performance for Chelsea in the Premier League against Watford.
Saul Niguez had another poor performance for Chelsea in the Premier League against Watford.

The stats from both games are similarly poor. Against Villa he lost possession eight times, committing three fouls, making one error leading to a shot, also picking up a yellow card before Jorginho replaced him.

Incredibly Saul’s numbers on Wednesday were worse, only completing seven passes in total from a central midfield position, none to his midfield partner Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

He again picked up a yellow card for an early foul on Emmanuel Dennis and could have repeated Bakayoko’s performance, a few times lazily leaving out of a leg as an energetic Watford side harassed a very sluggish Chelsea.

It would be unfair to single out Saul as the only under-performing player against Watford, overall this was an abject display from the league leaders. Definitely the worst this season and a good nominee for poorest since Tuchel came in.

But the trend of Saul starting and then being subbed by the interval reflects how poorly this transfer has gone so far.

With little sign of it getting any better and the player only getting this second chance due to injuries to N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, and Jorginho not being risked due to a knock after Sunday’s draw with Manchester United.

When Chelsea signed Saul on loan there was a £30m option to buy which some thought would be triggered if the midfielder could recapture the previous strong form for Diego Simeone. However, this setback will only make the possibility of that happening even slimmer.

This is a player who has played in Champions League finals, an international and tons of minutes for one of Europe’s most established clubs, it is quite extraordinary how poor Saul has been, quickly become an outsider in a squad where Tuchel has got the most out of many players.

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In the end, Saul did not get a second yellow, likely making this performance one easily cast aside in memory, unlike Bakayoko.

But that is the damning part of his time at Chelsea so far, that by the end of his loan Saul will return to Spain easily forgotten for such a lack of impact.

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