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Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel explains Saul Niguez sub: ‘I don’t know where he goes from this performance’

·3-min read
(Getty Images)

Thomas Tuchel says his decision to once again substitute Saul Niguez at half-time of Chelsea’s narrow win against Watford was purely tactical.

The Spain midfielder’s miserable loan spell from Atletico Madrid shows no signs of improving despite being selected for only his second Premier League start of the season at Vicarage Road on Wednesday night.

Rather, that performance went much the same as his first start against Aston Villa back in September, with Saul hooked at the break after an underwhelming display.

The 27-year-old made way for Thiago Silva as Chelsea boss Tuchel engineered a change in shape in order to battle for an unconvincing victory secured by another replacement in Hakim Ziyech after Mason Mount’s opener had been cancelled out by Emmanuel Dennis before the interval in a game that was delayed after a fan suffered a cardiac arrest in the stands.

Watch: Chelsea - Thomas Tuchel reflects on ‘very lucky’ win over Watford

After the game, Tuchel revealed that Saul’s yellow card - for an early foul on Dennis - was a factor in his substitution and also claimed that he had considered playing the deadline day signing as a wing-back against Watford.

“I don’t know where he goes from this performance but he was on a yellow card so we had two options,” Tuchel said. “We could have taken Marcos [Alonso] off who also had a yellow card and try Saul as a wing-back.

“I had this in my mind before the game, if something happened to Marcos. But I thought maybe it was not the right match to try things with new positions so it was [subbing] him to change the shape a little bit and have Thiago on the pitch with his organising.

“Having Trevoh [Chalobah] on the number six who is more physical – unfortunately Trevoh injured himself and we ended up with Ruben on the single six. But it was a tactical decision.”

Saul flattering to deceive once again will only serve to increase speculation that his loan could be cut short during the January transfer window.

Speaking before the trip to Watford, Tuchel suggested that Saul was set to see more minutes on the pitch over the coming weeks having taken time to adapt to life in the Premier League, with the likes of established midfield colleagues Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante all having dealt with injuries of late.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“I think every single player needs his time to adapt and Saul needed his time. He competes with a lot of high quality players in midfield,” he said.

“We need to understand him a bit better, not in terms of language, but in terms what is his real strength, the detail of the player, what can he add to the squad, where is his maybe unique quality and it was not easy.

“I guess it’s the first time he plays for another club than Atletico, he comes from the academy there, and we have to accept the style of the game is so different from Spain to here.

“It teaches us a lesson that everybody needs individual time to adapt and since many days he is stronger, I feel him a bit more relaxed and at the same time that gives him a little bit more freedom to impose his quality. He’s very strong in finishing, in arriving in the box.

“In the moment, where we have injured players in the midfield, even Jorgi doubtful for tomorrow, it’s the moment for him to be ready and I have the feeling since many days that he is ready and can show what he wants to show.”

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