Saul Niguez is one player who always gets linked with clubs across Europe. He has grown up the ranks at Atletico Madrid over the years and his value has only gone up. He continues to be a key part of Diego Simeone’s team. Therein lies the reason why the recent links with Manchester City might not make sense.
There is no doubt about Niguez’s abilities. He has been a Champions League finalist multiple times and is a regular for the Spanish national side. He’s constantly shown how versatile a midfielder he is, as his work-rate and determination continues to be a vital part of Simeone’s team – as shown in their Champions League victory over Liverpool. As a result, the main analysts in Nigeria’s Sports Betting Portal are tipping Atleti as dark horses for the trophy once the tournament resumes.
This season, he has made 34 appearances in La Liga for Atleti. While 21 of them have come from the central midfield and he has got six goals during that period, he’s played nine times on the left of a 4-4-2. He has also played four times on the right. Not just that, but Saul has played at left-back three times too.
That is a clear reflection of how he is a team player- something Simeone always values in a player. He completes 2.5 tackles per game, while also completing 1.5 interceptions per game. He completes 1.9 clearances per game- proof that he has that graft in his style and adds steel to Simeone’s side.
Back in 2016, Simeone said that Saul has the right ‘foundation’. But the foundation is right for his system.
“Saul has a solid foundation and the best thing [now] is to isolate all the good that is being talked about him.”
But Niguez completes only 0.5 key passes per game, while playing a total of 48.3 passes per game too. But he completes them with an accuracy of around 77 percent- something that is underwhelming for a Pep Guardiola team.
Over the years, that has been quite the same. Niguez has been moulded into a player who is archetypal for a pragmatic 4-4-2 system. He drops into deeper positions, wins the ball back and does that dirty work.
While those are excellent and utterly valuable qualities for a Simeone side, Guardiola’s Man City are at the other end of the spectrum. Players have miles more of the ball than Saul would at Atleti. They play very high up the pitch and it is the opposite of what the Los Rojiblancos do.
Niguez’s original position is the central midfield. While he is versatile, he can win the ball back and recycle it forward. He makes some darting runs into the box and scores goals. But the way City play, that isn’t how the two midfielders bar the defensive midfielder in the 4-3-3 operate.
David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne are one of the most creative players in the division. They operate almost like number tens who play high up the pitch, with the anchor-man behind them. Saul, on the other hand, would prefer to play deeper and conduct play from further behind the De Bruyne or Silva positions.
The 4-4-2 system at Atleti has wide players who help out defensively and aren’t dribblers like City have in the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling or the injured Leroy Sane. Saul isn’t that sort of player. He completes only 0.8 dribbles per game- something that should ring bells in Pep Guardiola’s mind.
That is nowhere close to what Guardiola’s wingers do on the ball in wide positions. Saul is known to have a big release clause that shows his important to Atletico. While City can spend a lot, they do have Phil Foden coming through the ranks to replace the departing David Silva.
Saul is a gem of a footballer. But he might just suit the sort of system he currently plays in.