The 2018 World Cup has seen plenty of thrills and spills, goals and saves already, but it’s been largely marked by physicality and narrow, binary scorelines. As often said in Brazil these days, there are no fools in football anymore.
Among the 32 teams at play on the world’s biggest stage, very few have managed to stand out and even fewer have been truly convincing of their quality so far. The hosts, Russia have the best goalscoring form of the competition, with 8 goals in 2 games against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and Croatia, of all teams, have perhaps been the most impressive, with multi-goal wins and two clean sheets kept against Nigeria and Argentina.
Two of the biggest favorites, and the two featuring the most Chelsea representation, are Belgium and England, both in Group G and both starting with solid victories over Panama and Tunisia, respectively.
On the key players in England’s 2-1 win was Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who leveraged his excellent season on loan at Crystal Palace to a World Cup spot at the tender age of 22. And while he didn’t start against Tunisia, his 10-minute cameo was decisive and has led to calls for more minutes, especially with Dele Alli ruled out through injury. A leaked lineup has RLC penciled in, and manager Gareth Southgate, who’s worked with the youngster since the U21s, did not dissuade that notion with recent praise.
“Ruben is a very good ball player, everybody can see his physical size but he has got lovely soft feet. He receives the ball really well when surrounded in tight areas, he is obviously strong enough to hold people off.”
“He has got great acceleration with the ball, driving with the ball at opposing players and he is a good passer, has good vision.”
“He probably needs to add goals to his game to become a more complete midfield player I’d say.”
-Gareth Southgate; Source: BBC via Mail
Recently, RLC spoke about his future at club level and his intention to look for regular minutes. This is something he may not get at Chelsea, which could lead to some tough decisions later this summer. It should be noted that Thibaut Courtois and Andreas Christensen made very similar statements before they were re-integrated into the Chelsea first-team following their loan spells, so there’s no reason to rule out a similar path for Loftus-Cheek as well.
Be it with Maurizio Sarri or Antonio Conte at helm, RLC has surely done enough to prove his quality and earn a shot with the first-team. At 22, he’s hardly the finished product and questions regarding his fitness remain as well. He himself revealed that his back is a constant worry, and that he is working on it by practising yoga.
But while there are Courtois and Christensen on one hand, there are the likes of De Bruyne, Lukaku and Ake, to mention a few, on the other. So let’s hope young Ruben ends up in the right hands, Chelsea hands.