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All back on board the Ruben Loftus-Cheek hype train after yet another superb Saturday

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Palace want him to stay; England want him to go (to Russia); RLC just wants to play

Chelsea FC v Sporting Clube de Portugal - UEFA Champions League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Wilfried Zaha may have scored twice to grab the spotlight in Crystal Palace’s 3-2 derby win over Brighton on Saturday, but pulling the strings from the shadowy edges was a young man playing big minutes for the second match in a row after missing ten weeks with an ankle injury and a sore knee.

By unanimous consent, Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek was superb.

Chelsea’s loan system gets plenty of criticism, with players often stuck in poor situations and going nowhere fast in their development (Lewis Baker, anyone?). But there are also plenty of success stories — as long as success isn’t strictly defined as “Chelsea first-team player”. Players such as Marco van Ginkel (just captained PSV to the Dutch title), Michy Batshuayi (although his season may be over after an ankle injury on Sunday), and Kenedy (who is wanted by Newcastle, among other big teams) have excellent careers ahead of them, undoubtedly. Another one along those lines is Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

You wouldn’t normally call it a successful loan when a player misses the better part of three months because of injury, but before his ankle gave way in December, Chelsea’s 22 year-old was on a run of 12 matches during which he cemented both a starting role and a place in the hearts of Palace manager Roy Hodgson and England boss Gareth Southgate.

As with Kenedy on the Toon, talk has started of Ruben making a permanent switch to Selhurst Park. Hodgson said as much in March, and with Ruben back and playing well, he’s saying it again.

“For Ruben Loftus-Cheek to consider us seriously as an option, we need to be in the league for the kick off. Let’s keep our priorities right and work hard to stay in this league. Then I’m pretty sure we would be saying to Ruben, is it worth having the conversation with Chelsea, could you consider? Then of course the conversation with Chelsea will come around and we will see from there.

”There’s no doubt he is going to be hot property if he has four more games like the last couple. If people remember that very good spell he had when we were actually doing quite well, I imagine that he will be hot property. Not just for Crystal Palace but for other teams too.”

-Roy Hodgson; source: Croydon Advertiser

Loftus-Cheek told Sky Sports he’s taking the same wait-and-see approach to his season and his future.

“I really haven’t thought about what’s going to happen next season. I’ve still got a few games now. Big games coming up, so I’m focused with Palace. Whatever happens next season, I’m not really looking at that right now. I’ll deal with that when it comes.”

He’s concentrating on taking baby steps, which include fitness and form, before he looks at the big picture, which may well include a role for England in the World Cup this summer.

“Fitness is a big thing. I’m starting to feel improvements now. The first 90 [minutes back] was the hardest so I’ll keep it going and try and get as fit as I can and as sharp as I can. The experience of being a Premier League player playing every week is just massive. The feeling of it, of getting three points, I’m just not used to it.”

-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Sky

Gareth Southgate is so keen on RLC that’s he reportedly keeping a seat warm for him on the England squad. Hodgson is equally impressed, not just with the lad’s quality but also with his sharpness.

“All I’m saying is I think he has reached this form probably quicker than we think and he has qualities. He is very good at screening, keeping the ball. He’s very good at beating players. His work-rate has been very good. That’s something he has worked on.

”If he can play regularly – as he was doing for us before he got injured for three months – for the last part of the season, then I think we will see him doing more and more as a player.

”In his career that hasn’t happened. He has played bit parts at Chelsea, he has had a performance or two here and there only to disappear again to the under-23s or wherever. With us of course he doesn’t do that. For us he is an important player because of the pure and simple football qualities he possesses.”

-Roy Hodgson; source: Croydon Advertiser

As Hodgson says, Loftus-Cheek’s Chelsea career has come in fits and starts. He’s probably right that if the midfielder can maintain his current level of play he’ll be in demand come the summer transfer window.

But it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Chelsea see a star of the future finally hit his stride and then decide to sell him. It’s much more likely that Chelsea’s manager, whoever that may be, will take a long, hard look at him in the International Champions Cup with an eye to Loftus-Cheek finally fulfilling his potential and earning a permanent role at Stamford Bridge.