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New Chelsea signing Saul Niguez may have to play sooner than Thomas Tuchel may have wanted after N’Golo Kante handed the Blues an injury scare. Saul has moved to Stamford Bridge from Atletico Madrid on deadline day in a loan deal than contains an option to buy at the end of the campaign.
It was a move that has been in the making for most of the summer, with Atletico keen to move the midfielder’s wages off their bill.
They struggled to find a permanent home for the 26-year-old and instead opted to sanction a temporary departure as the window entered its final stages.
Chelsea had long been considered one of the frontrunners to sign Saul, who helped Atletico to win the La Liga title last season.
Their interest came to fruition on the final day of the window, with the Blues able to overcome a late hiccup to complete the deal.
Saul’s main strength lies in linking play between defence and attack, a key skill needed for midfielder’s in Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 system.
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But another reason behind Chelsea’s decision to make a move for the Spanish international lay in the low amount of central midfield options Tuchel had to call upon.
Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic had been the only natural central midfielders in the squad entering deadline day, though Mason Mount is also able to play in a deeper role.
But the vast majority of the season still to play and Chelsea hoping to go deep in the Champions League, with the Carabao Cup and FA Cup also adding to their number of games.
That amount of matches means that squad depth will be crucial for the Blues’ hopes of having a successful season.
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And their move for Saul has already been proven to be the correct decision with Kante pulling out of the France squad for this week’s World Cup qualifiers.
The 30-year-old has cited the ankle injury he aggravated in the draw with Liverpool last Saturday as the cause of his unavailability.
He picked up the injury ahead of the Super Cup win over Villarreal and was left out of the squad to face Crystal Palace to allow it time to heal.
It had appeared to have healed enough for him to feature off the bench in the win over Arsenal, before being handed a starting spot against Liverpool.
But he was forced off after just 45 minutes at Anfield, having aggravated the ankle problem following a challenge with Sadio Mane.
Kante will now return to London to work on his fitness, though it is too early to deem how long he will be ruled out for.
The Blues face Aston Villa in their first game after the international break and it could mean Saul is handed an immediate starting spot.
That may be sooner than Tuchel would have liked, with the Spaniard having just nine days of training before his potential debut.
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