If reports are to be believed, Saul Niguez could be on his way to the Premier League this summer.
The Atletico Madrid star has been a mainstay in Diego Simeone’s side over the last few seasons, but the club’s ongoing struggle to break the La Liga duopoly means they find it difficult to retain their best players.
Saul certainly fits that description. The 24-year-old has shown a maturity beyond his years in Atletico’s midfield since breaking into the team as a teenager.
Those performances have not escaped the attention of Manchester United and Manchester City, according to ESPN. In fact, it’s likely all of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ have at least been admiring Saul from afar.
With that in mind, it’s worth comparing Saul to his Premier League counterparts. However, Saul is a difficult midfielder to pin down. He is a box-to-box all-rounder: expected to win duels, start and be involved in attacks, track back and occasionally dictate the tempo. Put simply, he has the potential to play anywhere in midfield.
From this perspective, we are able to compare Saul to a group of varied midfielders. Below we’ll explain why we’ve put Saul’s stats up against the chosen players and analyse how the Spaniard compares to his counterparts.
Fernandinho (Man City)
It is claimed Manchester City have identified Saul’s Atletico teammate, Rodri, as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. While Guardiola is said to see Saul as a player who can adapt to many midfield roles, Rodri is believed to be a better fit to one day replace Fernandinho.
That said, if City do manage to lure Saul to the Etihad it is likely he would often play in the role Fernandinho currently occupies in front of the back four.
A defensive mindset is needed in that role, which is something Saul can provide. He has won 7.57 duels per league 90 minutes this season, which is better than Fernandinho’s 6.52. He has also won more tackles per 90 (1.69) than Fernandinho (1.62), but the Brazilian comes out on top with interceptions, making 1.58 per 90 compared to Saul’s 1.18.
City are a worse side without Fernandinho, but Saul – while not being a carbon copy of the Etihad favourite – clearly has the attributes to slot into the central defensive midfield role when needed if Guardiola makes a move for him this summer.
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Liverpool attempted to solve their central midfield problem by spending much of their transfer budget on Naby Keita and Fabinho. But while there is plenty of potential in the duo, Jurgen Klopp has often stuck with the likes of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum this term.
Indeed, Wijnaldum plays a similar role to Saul; not constantly sitting as a deep midfielder like Henderson, but instead starting in deep positions and moving forward with the ball. For that reason, Liverpool might even be the best fit were Saul to join a Premier League club.
Wijnaldum averages one completed dribble per 90 league minutes; Saul edges him with 1.1. Wijnaldum is more creative, creating 0.83 chances from open play per 90 to Saul’s 0.51. But Saul’s 0.67 shots on target beats out Wijnaldum’s 0.35.
Saul also wins more duels than Wijnaldum 4.32 and would almost definitely prove an upgrade for Liverpool.
Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham)
Moussa Sissoko has been a revelation in Tottenham’s midfield this season, proving to be the box-to-box runner who makes Mauricio Pochettino’s diamond work.
This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact he completes more dribbles per 90 league minutes (1.29) than any of the midfielders mentioned in this article, including Saul. However, Sissoko’s complete lack of goal threat is what sees him falter as a player who is able to get into goalscoring positions.
He rarely makes the most of his ability to get past opponents and into promising areas. In Tottenham’s recent defeat at Liverpool, he failed to open his account for the season with a huge chance. The Frenchman has managed just 0.13 shots on target per 90 this season while Saul has attempted 0.67, scoring four goals.
Spurs don’t specifically require Sissoko to offer a goal threat, but his tackles and interceptions also lag behind Saul – possibly more proof that Sissoko is a good midfielder having a great season, rather than an elite player.
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Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
With Ramsey set to join Juventus this summer, Arsenal are about to lose a midfielder who can do just about everything. In that sense, he is very similar to Saul; both players could probably adapt to any midfield role.
Ramsey comes out on top in a couple of areas, though. He has provided six league assists this season to Saul’s one and has created 1.63 chances per 90 minutes, far superior to Saul’s 0.51.
Saul is also a surprisingly inaccurate passer. His accuracy rate is just 76.91%, lower than any of the midfielder’s we are looking at, including Ramsey (81.4%). This might have something to do with Atletico’s style of play, which isn’t particularly based on controlled possession.
Arsenal might be looking for a player whose default position is more advanced than Saul’s, but his adaptability isn’t dissimilar to that of Ramsey, making comparisons between the pair apt.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Much has been said and written about Kante’s position in the Chelsea team under Maurizio Sarri’s leadership. Some see Kante as the ideal defensive midfielder but he has performed admirably slightly to the right, having been given permission to roam forward whenever possible.
Again, it’s a position Saul would thrive in. On the chance Chelsea pursue Saul, he and Kante could provide quite the midfield partnership – although we’re not sure where that would leave Jorginho, providing Sarri is still in charge next term.
Kante has been far more inventive than Saul this term, creating 1.3 chances from open play per 90 league minutes to Saul’s 0.51. The Frenchman has also made more interceptions per 90 (1.2) but won fewer tackles (1.17).
Saul would perhaps add a little more power than Kante, but what Kante lacks in size and stature he makes up for in tenacity.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
By all accounts, Manchester United are looking for a player to partner Paul Pogba in the heart of midfield next season, and Saul is seen as the ideal candidate.
With that in mind, Saul would probably replace Ander Herrera, who is reportedly on his way out of the club on a free transfer. United would be getting an upgrade on Herrera with Saul, who can provide everything Herrera can and a bit more, mostly in an attacking capacity.
That said, Herrera is the only player on our list with more tackles per 90 league minutes this season (1.76) than Saul. He is also the closest player to Saul, bar Fernandinho, when it comes to duels won (5.64).
An imposing midfield three of Saul, Pogba and Nemanja Matic is surely a mouthwatering prospect for United, so their reported interest in Saul makes a lot of sense.