Saul Niguez scout report: The loan deal that demonstrates Tuchel’s intelligent strategy at Chelsea – tactical analysis
The Blues’ squad was good enough to try to achieve that, but it seems like “trying” isn’t the way to go. That’s why the club were very smart in the summer transfer window, making some of the most intriguing moves and investing in players that have experience and can fit like a glove to the team.
It turns out that Tuchel’s smart strategy on the pitch has transformed into a full-on project and his smart decision out of it could make a difference in Chelsea’s performance.
The signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for nearly 100M pounds was the spotlight of their summer and could be placed among the most exciting Premier League transfers this year along with Jack Grealish to Manchester City and Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United.
This investment is expected to bring a lot of positives for the Blues’ as the only thing missing up front was a leading figure with tons of experience and flair to the goal.
Their second move, though, is what should be considered a tactical move. Saúl Ñíguez’s arrival on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid might be the key to the manager’s peace of mind.
Despite having some of the best midfielders in the face of Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté and also having Mateo Kovačić at his disposal, Tuchel’s efforts to bring Ñíguez might be the cutting edge the team needed in the centre of the pitch.
Why Tuchel needed a midfielder?
Investing in a midfielder wasn’t an expected move from Chelsea, having in mind the arrival of the big-money signing Lukaku. The team were interested in Achraf Hakimi and Jules Koundé who were both scouted in efforts to strengthen the right side of the pitch and support the team in the build-up and in defence too.
With Hakimi joining Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla rejecting the Blues’ offers for Koundé, the team were left without the wanted and needed additions on the right.
The midfield situation wasn’t something to worry about at first glance due to the presence of Jorginho, Kanté and Kovačić. But looking closer, and considering Kanté’s injury struggles, it was clear that Chelsea needed a back-up and they needed it immediately.
The solution came in a smart season-long loan deal for Ñíguez – a player with plenty of experience and impressive qualities and a player who was struggling in his current club and needed to vent to play at his potential again. And last but not least, a player who seems like a good fit for Chelsea having the needed defensive awareness and also providing support in possession.
Including a buy-out option in the deal put the team in a better position for next summer and as they might secure their midfield without the need to compete with other teams for Declan Rice who was rumoured to join the Blues. If things with the Spaniard don’t work out, though, this gives Chelsea one more season to save up money and go all-in for West Ham’s start with a £100M price tag.
Ñíguez comes as a much-needed addition to the squad, offering some serious defensive assurance and also stability in possession and in building up.
How could he influence Chelsea’s performance in possession?
Although Chelsea have brought the Spaniard as a backup option for their regular centre-midfield starters, the team have won the lottery as Ñíguez is a much more versatile player and could offers solutions on other positions too. He adjusts well to different formations and styles and he isn’t only experienced in the centre-midfield position. While he is the most efficient in it, he could equally well play as a defensive midfielder and a left wing-back, which is where Diego Simeone employed him most regularly in the last couple of seasons.
His experience on the left and splitting his responsibilities between defence and attack well, means that he could replace Marcos Alonso or Ben Chilwell if needed, providing Chelsea with the needed squad depth. This makes his presence even more valuable and sets him apart from most of the Premier League midfielders.
His performance centrally is much more impressive, though, as he plays to his potential in a more box-to-box role where he could use his passing for ball progression, his late runs to the box to provide an additional threat in front of the goal and his anticipating skills to press and intercept when out of possession. His ability to hold on to the ball and advance it, combined with his defensive awareness make him suitable for a defensive midfield position too, proving that he could be a solid replacement of Chelsea’s current midfielders and fit perfectly to Tuchel’s double-six approach.
Currently, Chelsea are more efficient when attacking through the right side, as an LCMF Ñíguez could bring balance and increase their efficiency on the left. While he could progress the ball on his own through his control and composure, he also always provides a passing option and with his link-up-play supports ball progression and combines with his teammates on the flank.
Not only he could be a passing outlet on the left but he could also make positional rotations with Alonso who likes to cut inside, which would help the team in bypassing the opposition’s press and dragging players out of position.
Supporting the build-up with line breaking passes is also in his set of skills. His long-range passing could be very beneficial for Chelsea, especially when the team are pressed high or the passing lanes centrally are blocked.
This is when the 26-year-old opts to switch play with his long balls and completely change the direction of the events. This stretches out defences and releases the press, giving the team the opportunity to move into a more advanced position of the ball.
He uses his long-range passing ability to provide balls over the top to the strikers. This could prove efficient at Stamford Bridge thanks to Lukaku’s smart movement and hold up play. Combining directly with him could catch the opposing teams off guard and increase Chelsea’s chances in front of the goal.
This isn’t the only way he could support the team’s attacking actions. Contrary to the other central midfielders, Ñíguez provides an additional threat to the goal. His runs to the box and his 1.29 attempts at goal on average could be very beneficial for the team. He contributes with shots from close range and from distance, which could help the Blues’ in increasing their attacking numbers.
What could be his defensive impact?
The Spaniard’s defensive impact isn’t less impressive. He usually gets involved in the team’s pressing activities which allows him to recover the ball rather often. Last season, he average 7.03 recoveries per 90 in La Liga which is very close to the other Chelsea midfielders’ numbers.
His awareness and anticipation skills help him in ball interception and are very beneficial for gaining back possession and escaping pressing structures. Whenever the team need additional defensive support and someone to step up during transitions, Ñíguez doesn’t hesitate to tackle, although the downside of his direct actions is that he commits fouls rater often.
He could cover depth for the centre-midfielders in cases of emergency but even more importantly for the left-back/wing-back as they actively join the attacking actions and might be caught out of position.
Despite his 1.84m height, he does contribute a lot in the air. He averaged 6.32 aerial duels per 90 last season and is keep on disturbing the opposition and fighting for every ball. While his success rate of 47.4% doesn’t seem very high, his impact in these situations is still huge due to the high frequency of his attempts.
While his number of lost balls on average is a bit higher than his fellow midfielders’ numbers, the percentage of balls lost in his own half is very low (26.3%) compared to Jorginho (46.9%), Kanté (47.6%) and Kovačić (39.9%).
Why change something when it works? As our analysis shows, Tuchel’s side have secured a solid replacement for their regular starters who should not take off of their already winning model. If Ñíguez adjusts quickly to the Premier League and plays at his potential he could even bring more edge to Chelsea’s attack without risking their defensive stability. Giving him the chance to prove his qualities with a season-long deal, having an additional left-back/left wing-back option in him, but also “buying” some time until next summer proves to be one of the smartest moves in this transfer window.