Having watched Cristiano Ronaldo make an immediate impact on his Manchester United (second) debut earlier in the day, Saul Niguez, another Premier League signing completed on Deadline Day, must have envisaged making a similarly profound impression on his Chelsea bow.
Unlike Ronaldo, though, Saul didn’t last the full 90 minutes. In fact, the Spaniard was hooked at half time after a horror show of a performance which saw him cough up possession a number of times. Aston Villa targeted Saul and came close to an equaliser more than once as a result.
At the time, Chelsea’s capture of Saul on an initial loan deal from Atletico Madrid looked to be a shrewd piece of business. The 26-year-old is proven at the top level of the European and international game with his versatility something that appeared to make him a perfect fit for the Stamford Bridge side.
Tuchel: Mendy didn't feel comfortable enough to face Tottenham
- Romelu Lukaku strikes as Chelsea defeat Aston Villa to go second in Premier League
- Chelsea sign Spain star Saul Niguez on loan deal from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid
“Over the last years, I have a feeling that he’s developed a bit from a classic box-to-box player to a more strategic player, a bit comparable to Jorginho, with a good passing ability and good game understanding,” Thomas Tuchel explained after the signing of Saul from Atletico Madrid.
Tuchel’s system requires a great deal of energy and intensity from the two central midfielders in the middle of the pitch and Chelsea, who expect to compete on all fronts this season, only had three players (Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic) to cover those two positions after the loan exit of Billy Gilmour to Norwich City.
This is why Chelsea entered the market for a new midfielder with Saul handed the chance to demonstrate his quality against Aston Villa on Sunday. Instead, his 45-minute performance reminded everyone of Jorginho’s importance to Tuchel’s team and why the Italian is arguably the only player at Stamford Bridge right now without a suitable deputy.
Jorginho has come a long way as a Chelsea player. Initially seen as the embodiment of the insipid ‘Sarri-ball’ that had the Blues keep possession without much possession, the 26-year-old is now the dynamo through which so much of Chelsea’s play under Tuchel flows.
The difference between Chelsea in the first half of their 3-0 win over Aston Villa and the second half was stark. While the hosts held a 1-0 lead at the break, they were fortunate not to have conceded with Villa spurning two or three golden opportunities to find the back of the net.
Jorginho (FC Chelsea)
Image credit: Getty Images
Kante’s absence through injury only exacerbated Saul’s problems further. Had the Frenchman been involved, Saul’s vulnerabilities might well have been masked. Without Kante alongside him in central midfield, they were brutally exposed. This was a tough introduction for the Deadline Day signing.
With Saul off and Jorginho on, though, Chelsea controlled the contest. The visitors were kept at arm’s length as the European champions applied some gloss to the scoreline with two further goals. The opening 45 minutes saw Chelsea struggle to get out from the back at times, but that wasn’t an issue in the second period.
Against Aston Villa, no Chelsea player was dispossessed as many times as Saul (three) and he only played 45 minutes. His pass completion rate of 83.8% was much lower than Jorginho’s of 96.4% with the Spaniard also failing to make a single tackle despite tackling being one of his best qualities at Atleti.
Of course, Saul’s Chelsea career won’t be defined by a difficult 45-minute display on his debut, but it might take Tuchel longer than anticipated to integrate the Spaniard into his team and footballing ideology. Saul’s quality isn’t in any doubt, but he still has to prove his suitability at Stamford Bridge.
Just give Chelsea the title now – The Warm-Up
Opinion: Chelsea's Silva as good as any other Premier League centre back