In the second Madrid derby last season, played at the Vicente Calderon, Atletico Madrid suffered an early setback as Koke had to come off after suffering an injury. In only the tenth minute of the game, he was substituted in favour of a then 20-year-old named Saul Niguez. Just eight minutes later, the young midfielder executed a spectacular bicycle kick past Iker Casillas to put his team 2-0 ahead. The expression of exasperation on the face of the Real Madrid goalkeeper told a story of its own.
But perhaps the majority of the world got to know of Saul last week when he went on a scintillating run from midfield and evaded one marker after another before using David Alaba as a shield and curled an unstoppable shot past an outstretched Manuel Neuer and into the Bayern Munich net to put Atletico Madrid 1-0 ahead, and it ultimately turned out to be the match-winning goal.
The youngster, who made his debut for Atletico Madrid at just 17 in 2012, has grown by leaps and bounds in the past two years and has gone on to become an integral part of the Atletico Madrid side that have become one of the best in European football.
Saul, capable of playing in central midfield as well on the left or right side of the midfield, has become a potent weapon in Atletico Madrid’s arsenal and they will be hoping that he continues his progress at the same rate in the coming years.
The 21-year-old, like all Diego Simeone players, is an extremely competitive and combative midfielder. He can best be described as a cross between Barcelona’s centre-back Javier Mascherano and his own team-mate Koke. He never lets the intensity drop and chases every ball until his team regains possession or the ball goes out of play. Saul is equally adept at breaking up opposition’s attack as well as initiating one for his team from his position in midfield. Not one to shy away from making runs in the box, he possesses a lethal shot as well.
Future at Atletico Madrid
He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Rayo Vallecano, but since his return to the Vicente Calderon in the summer of 2014, Saul has went on to make 35 appearances across all competitions last season and has increased that tally to 44 this term so far. His consistent role in the Atletico Madrid first team clearly indicates that Saul is prominent in manager Simeone’s plans for the future.
There will be no dearth of suitors for his signature following his two sparkling seasons, but Los Rojiblancos have become a big enough European outfit to keep hold of their biggest talents.
Prospects with the national team
The youngster has represented Spain in the youth set-up and is currently part of the Under-21 team, having scored twice in his 16 appearances for the side. However, with his performances in the last couple of years, it would be a massive oversight from Vicente del Bosque if he doesn’t take him to the Euros in France later this year.