Other than the persistently high expectations and equally high playing-time disappointments, the one consistent theme of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s career has been injury issues. Dating back even to his time in the Chelsea youth teams, back issues, muscle issues, and whatever other fitness issues have been a constant feature, and have often played major (limiting) roles in his development.
Last season, it was an ankle injury that almost cost him the entire second-half of the season while on loan at Crystal Palace. As it turned out, he only missed about 2-3 months and recovered well enough to even be on the plane to Russia for the World Cup.
This season, it’s a more familiar injury foe that has already made an appearance: the back injury. Initially reported as a foot injury picked up during the last international break, RLC told Chelsea TV after last night’s match that it was yet another back injury that’s been affecting him.
“It was good to be back out there. I have had a niggle in my back, which I have to take carefully because I have had a lot of injuries there. I have had to stay patient but it felt good. I will build up my fitness now and hopefully I will have that solid block of training and football and see where I go from there.”
The back injury and limited minutes have cost him his place in the England squad, too, as England boss Gareth Southgate called up Chelsea duo Ross Barkley and (loanee) Mason Mount instead. And while it’s an opportunity for those two, it’s an unfortunate circumstance for Ruben.
“It aligns with what we have done in the last 18 months. We have a few injuries in midfield in particular, Dele [Alli], Jesse [Lingard], Ruben has been missing, Fabien Delph, so there is an opportunity there [for others].”
-Gareth Southgate; source: Football.London
Loftus-Cheek made it past the hour-mark in his first start before being replaced by Barkley there, too, but that’s certainly a good first step on the road back to full fitness. He’s unlikely to start again on Sunday, but hopefully after the international break, with matches continuing to come thick and fast, he can get into a rhythm on the training ground and on the pitch as well.
“I have to see tomorrow the recovery of the player. He has played for the first team from the beginning, he has played for the first time for 65, 70 minutes. I want to see tomorrow the recovery of the player.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
As far as a longer-term outlook, with a potential loan move avoided in the summer but looming still for January, consistent playing time will be key. As RLC told Sky Sports ahead of this weekend’s trip Southampton, they key for him (and others like interview-mate Ethan Ampadu) is to be ready if and when the opportunity comes.
“We’re winning nearly every game now and Chelsea are one of the best clubs so there are going to be top players in the starting XI. I think it’s down to us to work hard and keep improving as much as we can in training - even though we’re not playing - and to try and stay sharp because you might get an opportunity. Someone gets injured and you have to be ready so it’s up to us to have the right mentality during the weeks.
“We still feel part of the group. We’re a team, we’re there at every game and encouraging the starting XI if we’re on the bench so I think it’s important that we don’t have any negative energy around the team. We’re doing so well at the minute and we need to keep that positivity in the team.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Sky Sports
That’s certainly a commendable attitude for the 23-year-old, especially as he’s talked many times before about his need to play (especially after seeing its benefits first-hand while on loan at Palace last season). It’s probably helping that Chelsea are winning and that the sort of football peddled by Sarri is something that most players like and want to play.
“It is a positive way of playing under Sarri, we are always on the front foot. It is attacking, creative football. As players that’s great for us and we have quickly adapted to that.
“I think we have a lot of potential (to get better) but we are still winning games. It is going to be exciting to see what this team can do this season.”
Hopefully RLC will get to play a significant part in all that excitement as well.