17

Saul Niguez

Personal information

  • Name

    Saul Niguez Esclapez
  • Date of birth

    21 November 1994 (age 26)
  • Birthplace

    Elche, Spain
  • Height

    1.83m (6 ft 0 in)
  • Weight

    77.5 kg
  • Position

    Midfielder
  • Number

    17

Biography

On transfer deadline day August 2021, Saul Niguez moved from Atletico Madrid to Chelsea on a season-long loan deal with an option for a permanent transfer at the end of the season.

The midfielder had up until that point spent his entire club career in Madrid in his native Spain, having begun his youth career at Real Madrid before switching to Atletico, with one loan spell at another capital city club Rayo Vallecano.

During his pre-Chelsea time with Atleti, where he had played 340 matches and scored 43 goals, Saul won the Europa League twice, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish and UEFA Super Cups, and as recently as last season, the league title in his homeland.

He played 33 of the 38 La Liga games in 2020/21 and scored twice as Diego Simeone’s side beat Real to the title by two points.

They were less successful in the Champions League however, with Saul starting both games of the round of 16 tie against Chelsea which the Blues won 3-0 on aggregate.

The previous time the two clubs were drawn together in the competition, in the group stage in 2017/18, Saul was also involved and indeed he opened the scoring with a header in our meeting at Stamford Bridge before an own-goal ensured the match ended in a draw.

Chelsea went on to play Barcelona in the knockout stages that season while the Spaniards dropped into the Europa League although they went on to lift that trophy. Saul scored a further three European goals in the campaign, against FC Copenhagen and home and away against Lokomotiv Moscow. Arsenal were defeated in the semi-final and Marseille were comprehensively despatched by three goals to nil in the final. Saul played the whole of that match.

His contribution to the earlier season when the Europa League was won, in 2011/12, was his Atletico Madrid debut when he came on in a win at home to Besiktas. His appearances increased to 11 the following season and after a La Liga loan to Rayo Vallecano in 2013/14, he became a regular selection back at his parent club the following year (an acrobatic goal in a 4-0 win over Real Madrid helped establish him) and remained so.

In consecutive seasons (2015/16 and 2016/17) he scored nine goals, one of them coming in a Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich. That lead to a final against biggest rivals Real with the match in the San Siro all-square at 1-1 after extra time. Saul was one of three Atleti players to convert a penalty in the shoot-out but with their opponents slotting their first five, he was denied club football’s biggest prize.

Another Champions League goal proved to be the winner in a quarter-final tie against Leicester City and in a more recent game, his goal at home to Liverpool in February 2020 helped knock them out of the competition.

However under Simeone, rather than concentrating on being a goalscoring midfielder, Saul has mostly been deployed as a versatile, industrious player with good positional play to cover, pressure and win the ball, as well as serving the strikers with quick possession. He brings left-footed balance to a midfield and retains a goal threat with runs into the box, ability to shoot from distance and an aerial presence in open play and at set pieces.

He made his Spain debut in 2016 and has added a further 18 caps by the time of his move to Chelsea, with his first of three international goals coming in a UEFA Nations League win against England at Wembley.