Adding Saul Niguez gives Thomas Tuchel an embarrassment of riches unseen in the Premier League before, writes Graham Ruthven.
Even after the $170m addition of Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea felt they needed one more signing to round out Thomas Tuchel’s squad. Indeed, with only minutes left of the summer transfer window remaining, Saul Niguez joined on loan for the season, giving Chelsea the extra midfielder they wanted.
Of course, Chelsea already boasted one of the best midfield units in the Premier League. The central partnership of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante gives the Blues control in the majority of matches they play, while Mateo Kovacic offers rotational relief off the bench. Further forward, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount offer creativity and drive.
Despite being considered a top tier talent, proven at Champions League and international level over a number of seasons, Saul isn’t guaranteed a starting spot at Stamford Bridge. He will have to force his way into Tuchel’s starting lineup. This says a lot about the quality currently at Chelsea.
In fact, Chelsea’s current squad looks to be the strongest ever assembled in the Premier League era. In every area of the pitch, the Blues boast world class options. Tuchel’s ability as a coach allows him to toggle between different tactics and approaches, sometimes within a match, but he wouldn’t be able to do this without such a deep squad.
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Chelsea’s 2021/22 midfield options are wild. ???? pic.twitter.com/lQmIUunZ8t
— Sporting Index (@sportingindex) September 1, 2021
In midfield, for instance, they now have four players who would surely start for every other Premier League team to fill just two positions. Lukaku might be the only forward Chelsea have who is almost certain to score 20 or more goals in a season, but Havertz and Timo Werner, signed for $78m last summer, can be deployed up front.
At left-back, Tuchel has Ben Chilwell and Marcos Alonso. At right-back, Reece James and Cesar Azpilicueta are different, but reliable options. In goal, Chelsea have Edouard Mendy as their first choice and $123m Kepa Arrizabalaga as back-up. Tuchel has the squad to compete on all fronts, and then some.
If Chelsea are light in one area, it’s in central defence where they wanted Jules Kounde to strengthen before talks over a deal for the Sevilla defender hit an impasse. However, Tuchel has still used Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger, along with Azpilicueta as the right-sided centre back in a back three, to establish a sound defensive basis. Trevoh Chalobah also looks well-equipped to succeed in Chelsea’s system.
There have been stronger XIs in the Premier League – most notably, the Manchester United team that won three Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009 and Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ side – but the strength Chelsea have built up over the last few years is unparalleled. No Premier League team has had the luxury of depth that Tuchel has now.
Throwback to when Saul Niguez scored one of the best Champions League goals ever against Bayern Munich ????
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 31, 2021
It’s not just about the names on the teamsheet. Tuchel now has a squad that can facilitate a number of different approaches – look how 10-man Chelsea seamlessly shifted into a more compact shape with just two changes made at half-time of their 1-1 draw against Liverpool before the international break.
Transfermarkt estimates that both Manchester City ($1.6bn) and Manchester United ($1.4bn) boast a squad value above Chelsea’s ($1.35bn) this season, but the two Manchester clubs have real deficiencies that hold them back. City, for example, are weak at left-back, while United lack a midfield anchor to balance out their top-heavy team.
Chelsea don’t have this issue and this could lead them to their first Premier League title since 2017 this season. City, Liverpool and United all have the potential to mount a challenge, but the deadline day signing of Saul has only added to the sense that the Blues are the team to beat, primarily because there’s no obvious way to beat them.