At one point this season, Ruben Loftus-Cheek featured in eight straight games in all competitions. Currently, he’s on a stretch of seven appearances in nine games. But even during those two streaks combined, he only started 4 of the 15 games, adding 5 more starts and 4 more substitute looks for a total tally of 24 appearances. That’s certainly progress in some sense — it’s just one off the 25 he achieved at Crystal Palace last season — even if the 9 starts (and half the minutes compared to last season) are disappointingly low figures.
But, as the recently turned 23-year-old tells the official Chelsea website, a lot of that has to do with luck and the injuries that continue to nag and frustrate in their frequency.
“I was doing really well and I got injuries, so that doesn’t help, but if I can keep fit and be patient and keep working hard, improving as a player, then I believe that at some point I’ll get my opportunity.
“I feel close, especially getting opportunities coming on off the bench most games, so in those opportunities I need to do my best to help the team win, whether it be holding the lead or trying to get a goal. If I do well in those opportunities then hopefully the starts may come.
“Just trying to keep fit, especially with my back, has been really frustrating for me, but working with the physios and the medical team, I think we’re getting close to nailing that down and keeping my back feeling good.”
Even when fully healthy, Loftus-Cheek has faced strong competition from Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovačić for midfield minutes (with the three of them essentially splitting time next to Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté), though Ruben’s versatility has allowed for a few looks at wide-forward as well. Overall, his situation appears to be good enough (especially given the circumstances) that transfer rumors have mostly died down since the start of the season, though if he continues to collect playing time only off the bench, they are sure to return quickly.
Either way, the focus for now is firmly on improving Chelsea as a team.
“We are making progress. These days can happen where it just doesn’t go right, that’s football. Consistency in football is the hardest thing. To keep playing at a high level week in, week out, three times a week is very difficult. Consistency helps you win titles, so this is the biggest thing for us. If we can keep these top performances up we can be a great team.”
It’s also helped that Sarri’s rigid tactical instructions have been tweaked a bit lately to make them more pragmatic and approach certain situations in a smarter, less naive manner.
“We’ve been working a lot more on being solid as a team defensively. I think that showed in the last couple of games, obviously keeping City at bay and then the clean sheet against Tottenham. So we’re improving on that and I think we’ve got enough talent in the team going forward that we can create chances and score goals.
“The system hasn’t been changed. We’ve been doing what we’re doing, playing how we’ve been playing since the start of the season. We’re just picking our moments, when to press and when to sit off and be compact. We’ve been loads better at staying compact as a team and pressing as a team throughout the game, so that’s improved.”
All that progress won’t mean anything if we can’t take care of business against Fulham today however. Whether Loftus-Cheek starts or not, he will be doing the best he can when he’s called upon.
“Any team that’s in and around the relegation zone is going to be difficult to play, especially with them being at home and being a derby.
“We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. We’ll analyse Fulham and how they’re set up defensively and offensively, so we’ll be ready for the game and have our game-plan. We won’t concentrate too much on what’s happening around Fulham, we just look at how they play and analyse how they play and look to do the best we can.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Chelsea FC