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PL 21/22: Comparing Saúl Ñíguez with the other Chelsea Midfielders

The last eight odd months at Chelsea Football club, since Thomas Tuchel took over the position of manager, has simply been extraordinary. Chelsea, under Tuchel, not only secured Champions League football by finishing fourth in the league, the Blues also won the 2020/21 Champions League beating Manchester City in the final. The good news does not stop there though. During the summer transfer window, Chelsea brought back Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for a record fee, but their business did not end with that. The European Champions signed Saúl Ñíguez on a loan from Atlético Madrid, in what looks like a very smart piece of business. The Blues have had some issues in the midfield department in recent years with N’golo Kante injured quite frequently. Jorginho has been one of the most consistent players under Tuchel with Mateo Kovačić not involved regularly. So, the signing of Saúl is important for one of the key positions if Chelsea want to win the title but what will the Spanish midfielder bring to Tuchel’s team?

The following visualisation shows a comparison of Saúl’s numbers from last season with other Chelsea midfielders including the very versatile Mason Mount whose primary position is in midfield. Players who played at least 1000 minutes were considered for this analysis.

One of the most important things that Saúl brings to this Chelsea side is his versatility. The midfielder, under Simeone during the 2020/21 season played in four different positions having predominantly played as a left sided midfielder. As seen in the visual, Saúl is a strong tackler and is also an able creator. Only Mason Mount, who played in a slightly advanced role, ranked better for Expected Assists per 90 minutes than Saúl, albeit in a different league and the Spanish midfielder played fewer minutes too. Saúl also has a good eye for a pass as evident in his numbers for key passes per 90 minutes. The midfielder also likes to shoot as seen in his percentile rank for shots per 90 minutes. Saúl Ñíguez can function effectively as a box-to-box midfielder given the wide range of capabilities he possesses. He brings a mix of both offensive and defensive qualities that Chelsea are in need of right now, however, Saúl will take some time to adjust to the pace of the league. The physicality of the Premier League should not be a problem given Saúl was a player under Diego Simeone for several years. It will be interesting to see what role Saúl Ñíguez plays under Tuchel and if Chelsea eventually make his deal permanent next summer.