Chelsea’s on-loan midfielder Saul Niguez has totalled just 146 minutes in a Blue shirt since making his loan switch from Atletico Madrid in September in what has been a quiet start to his Chelsea career.
Saul made his debut in the Premier League win over Aston Villa but lasted only 45 minutes before he was hooked by Thomas Tuchel at half time having struggled with the pace and intensity of English football.
The League Cup is back in town on Tuesday when Chelsea take on Southampton for a second time this month, having already beaten them in the Premier League in SW6 three weeks ago.
Saul will be desperate for another start in the competition to prove to Chelsea a couple of things: 1) That he can cut it in England and should be an important member of Tuchel’s squad and 2) A permanent move after his loan spell comes to a close.
football.London understands that the Blues do have the chance to sign the Spanish midfielder permanently this summer but if they were to take the decision now, it would likely be a firm no and he’d be heading back to Madrid.
With the League Cup and its early rounds, it presents a chance for Tuchel to make some changes in personnel to keep his squad not only refreshed but also on their toes.
The German head coach completely trusts his players, as shown by throwing in Malang Sarr at the deep end for a Premier League debut in the win over Brentford, and he is willing to give his players a chance to force their way into his plans. He also makes no secret of things when they aren’t going so well and will call players out for it – just ask Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech.
Tuchel was asked about Saul and a possible inclusion in the XI for the visit of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side in midweek and the head coach said “we will see” if the 26-year-old gets minutes.
“It is [a chance for Saul to prove himself], it is in general,” Tuchel said.
“I have not decided yet if he plays or not, we will see but these are the moments, in the Carabao Cup, to give some players some minutes. Still, it needs to make sense and we need to be fair to the players in his position.
“Do we have his position available? That position where he can show his potential and then get better and better. Let’s see. It is not decided yet but in general, yes.”
That might not be music to Saul’s ears. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has already usurped him in the midfield pecking order and is more likely to be picked on rotation than his on-loan teammates.
N’Golo Kante is back from his Covid-19 enforced hiatus and also a muscle problem he picked up in training last week. If Kante is fit, he plays.
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Jorginho is very much in the running for the Ballon d’Or and is playing some incredibly consistent football in 2021, while Mateo Kovacic is adding assists to his game, if the goals are still somewhat on the lean side.
Saul was fourth-choice in his position when he arrived, now he’s fifth at the very best. We also saw Trevoh Chalobah play in midfield against Juventus in the Champions League defeat in northern Italy, and Ross Barkley has been coming off the bench too.
No guarantee of game time against Southampton is not what Saul will want to see. Tuchel will likely give him some to prove a point but he’s already running out of chances only six weeks into his Chelsea career.