Thomas Tuchel decided against using Saul Niguez against Southampton to protect the midfielder as he continues to pay the price for a difficult debut.
Saul struggled on his only Premier League outing for Chelsea since joining from Atletico Madrid on an initial loan on transfer deadline day, lasting just 45 minutes before being hauled off against Aston Villa.
The Spain international gave away possession 10 times, misplaced seven of his 38 passes and conceded a team-high three fouls in the Blues’ eventual 3-0 win.
Tuchel said at the time the 26-year-old would need time to adapt to the intensity of the English game after spending his entire senior career to date in Spain.
Saul has featured only once since, playing 76 minutes of last month’s EFL Cup penalty shoot-out victory against the same opponents.
With N’Golo Kante out with coronavirus and Jorginho rested from the beginning against Southampton, Tuchel started Ruben Loftus-Cheek and brought on Ross Barkley from the bench.
Tuchel revealed on the back of the 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge that he did not feel the time was right to select Saul against an energetic Southampton side.
“He was very, very close to start,” Tuchel said. “But in the end I decided against it.
“I thought to put him in another high pressing match, against an opponent pressing so high in the centre of the pitch, would it be fair to say, ‘Okay now prove it and let’s see if your adaption has gone further?’
“I hesitated a little bit. He does not need to worry. Just work hard and adapt and the chances will come. We have only 11 to give a chance. I would like to see it in a positive way.
“If you turn it around of course you have eight players who we didn’t trust today from the beginning. This is a reality. I cannot hide from this reality.”
The 22 league starts made by box-to-box midfielder Saul last season was his lowest tally since 2014-15, a drop from 35 starts in 2019-20, 32 in 2018-19 and 35 again in 2017-18.
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