There’s two players Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri now CAN’T leave out… it’s time to change
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has made 68 appearances in the Premier League, and scored eight goals.
A decent record for an attacking midfielder, you might think. But not when you consider that Loftus-Cheek is now 23 years old, and that he made his Chelsea debut in the Premier League in January 2015.
The tall, rangy player was picked by England coach Gareth Southgate for his World Cup squad last summer, and had an impressive tournament as England reached the semi-finals.
That massive boost to his career came after he had been loaned by Chelsea to Crystal Palace for the season, and he had impressed there too, making 25 apperances and scoring two goals.
But a breakthrough to becoming a regular at Chelsea, whether under Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri, had still seemed a long way off. Until, perhaps, this week.
Last Sunday, Loftus-Cheek came on as a substitute as Chelsea laboured at Cardiff, and helped turn the game, in fact scoring the winning goal with an injury time header as his team somehow emerged with a win after a performance earlier that had seen fans calling for Sarri’s head.
Then on Wednesday night, as Callum Hudson-Odoi made his long awaited first start in the Premier League as the stubborn Sarri at last bowed to the inevitable and gave his youngsters a chance, he scored again in an impressive performance and also managed an assist.
Perhaps, at last, Loftus-Cheek’s time at Stamford Bridge has come.
That is, if the boy who has been at Chelsea since the age of eight can stay fit. Back problems have hampered Loftus-Cheek’s progress over the last couple of years, ruling him out for almost a month over the Christmas New Year period.
But, after Wednesday night’s performance in the 3-0 win over Brighton, it is now hard to see how Sarri can leave Loftus Cheek, or indeed the 18 year old Hudson-Odoi, out of his team.
Loftus-Cheek has always been skilful, and powerful, and when on a run from midfield, difficult to stop. He offers goals – eight this season in all competitions, while Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley, his midfield rivals, have precisely none and five each.
The other two have been regulars, while Loftus-Cheek has started just twice in the league. That may well now change.
In previous seasons, Loftus-Cheek has tended to have brilliant moments, but then disappear from games. Those traits appear to have been ironed out with more consistent performances over 90 minutes lately. The boy from Lewisham has been patient, and worked at his game.
For the first time since Frank Lampard graced their shirt for so many seasons and scored with the regularity of a striker, Chelsea may have a genuine goalscoring midfielder on their hands.
Keep that troublesome back healthy, and big things could be ahead for Loftus-Cheek. Especially if Chelsea cannot lift that looming FIFA transfer ban, and have to rely on their home grown players next season.
All the noise has been about Hudson-Odoi. But it could be Loftus-Cheek’s time now, too.