Antonio Conte was expected to field a mostly rotated lineup on Monday night, giving much needed minutes to backups, young(er) players, and a few veterans who have been playing key roles in the dressing room (Terry) and the training ground (Begović) but not quite on the pitch. And Conte certainly did not disappoint in that regard, playing only three of the usual starting eleven, only two of whom slotted in at their usual spots (Kanté and Hazard), with a third, the ever-present César Azpilicueta deputizing for Victor Moses at right wing-back.
One glaring absence however was Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Many of us expected him to start alongside Batshuayi instead of Hazard, so when the Belgian’s name appeared on the lineup sheet instead, there was a bit of understandable consternation, which was further exacerbated by RLC’s absence from the substitutes bench as well.
As it turns out there was good reason for all that: Loftus-Cheek is once agains suffering from back problems.
“He’s struggling with a pain in his back. It’s a pity because for sure today was a good opportunity for him. Ruben is a really good player. We have to take the best decision for him for next season, but in the future Ruben is a player from our academy with great prospects.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Sounds like RLC was all set to play but the injury derailed those plans. (And it also sounds like he might go on loan next season.) This is not the first time he’s missed a game with this injury either this season, with a similar opportunity going by the wayside back in October.
Loftus-Cheek was there for the game and the post-match festivities both on Friday and on Monday, so it’s probably nothing too serious ... but still serious enough to cause him to miss Monday’s game. That’s unfortunate, but hopefully he’ll have more opportunities in the future, if not this season then the next (or the next ... or the next...)