‘Got better and better’: Tuchel hails 26-year-old Chelsea star who surprised him in cup win v Southampton

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has hailed Saul Niguez after his performance in the cup win over Southampton on Tuesday night. 

Chelsea defeated Premier League rivals Southampton 4-3 on penalties last night to progress to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.

Kai Havertz’s opening goal was cancelled out by Che Adams during 90 minutes, which sent the game to spot-kicks at Stamford Bridge. History then repeated itself when Reece James scored the winning penalty for the Blues, something he did in the previous round victory against Aston Villa. 

Tuchel picked out Chelsea midfielder Saul for special praise after his midweek display. 

The 26-year-old was promoted to the starting line-up for a rare appearance this season and put in arguably his most encouraging performance to date since his loan move in the summer to the Bridge.

His stamina to improve as the game went on surprised Chelsea’s boss:

“Was a good match, a huge step in the right direction for him,” Tuchel said.

“I am happy. We thought maybe he would be struggling with the intensity at the 70th minute but he got better and better, had chances and shots.

“We thought let’s keep him and give him the minutes. It was a good step for him.”

Photo by Chris Lee – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Saul got better and better last night for Chelsea

Tuchel pointed out that the Spaniard improved as the game went on against Southampton.

It’s obvious he’s been struggling with some confidence issues on the pitch, which is why he’s looked a shadow of the player that was once tearing it up for parent club Atletico Madrid.

However, the left-footed central midfielder did have a strong impact yesterday in the cup.

He went close to scoring on a couple of occasions, including when a first-half header was dramatically saved by opposition goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

This is the type of performance he can now try build on.

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Will he play more?

Saul definitely took a step forward against Southampton by showing he can compete for the starting midfield role.

Unfortunately, the Blues squad is stacked in the centre of the park. He’ll need to bide his time when he’s got the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante as teammates. 

Last night showed, though, he’s good enough and may be used during a hectic winter fixture schedule.

Tuchel claimed in September Saul “trains with intensity”, so he needs to continue trying to catch the manager’s eye.

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A sports journalist who graduated from Staffordshire University in 2016 and is a Chelsea supporter. Loves anything football or cricket related when it comes to England.