As transfer deadline day moved into its final minutes, Chelsea’s work was still not done. A deal to bring in Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid was agreed but the paperwork hadn’t been finalised. More time was needed.
At 11.45pm, Saul’s season-long loan move to Stamford Bridge was confirmed. Chelsea had strengthened the one weakness in Thomas Tuchel’s squad.
“We welcome Saul to the club and believe he completes our squad as we compete for honours in five different competitions this season,” director Marina Granovskaia told the club’s website.
“He is a proven winner, a player with huge experience and we know he will be very well-suited to the challenges that face us on all fronts in the coming year.”
Saul has today flown to London following the move. He is expected to begin training with the Blues first-team group, one depleted due to international call-ups, in the coming days.
The signing of the 26-year-old gives Tuchel the fourth midfielder his squad lacked after Billy Gilmour departed on loan earlier in the window for Norwich City.
Of course, Mason Mount, Reece James and Trevoh Chalobah could fill in if required. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is still part of the first-team squad too. Yet going into the campaign with only three out-and-out central midfielders – N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic – felt a risk.
One injury would leave Chelsea light. Two and suddenly there would be a major problem for Tuchel to solve.
It’s why the importance of Saul’s signing has been highlighted within 24 hours of his move to Stamford Bridge.
On Saturday, during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, Kante was replaced at half-time due to an injury suffered when making a challenge on Sadio Mane. The Senegal international landed on the Frenchman’s ankle, the same ankle he injured in the build-up to the UEFA Super Cup.
Kante managed to start the game in Belfast last month but subsequently missed the Premier League opener against Crystal Palace and was only fit enough to come off the bench against Arsenal the following week.
That the 30-year-old only completed 45 minutes on his first Premier League start of the campaign will be of concern to Tuchel. Injuries, albeit minor ones, have become a recurring theme for Kante over the past two seasons. Not that they’ve slowed him down when on the pitch.
Kante needed an opportunity to recuperate and rehabilitate during the international break. That he has today been sent home from the French squad will give him the rare chance to do so. It’s one he will almost certainly benefit from.
Tuchel knows Kante’s minutes will have to be managed across this season. Just as they were last term. Saul will certainly help make that achieveable, and perhaps even as early as the clash with Aston Villa following the international break.