It’s flown a bit under the radar, but Ruben Loftus-Cheek has made six consecutive appearances for Chelsea (for the first time since Project Restart at the tail end of the 2019-20 season), and has started back-to-back matches for the first time since the end of the 2018-19 season, when it looked like he was about to become the superstar we had been promised.
But that promise has always had to account for two massive unknowns and questions, and has (so far) mostly failed to do so: Ruben’s injuries (even before the Achilles rupture, he had been dealing with recurring back and mysterious ankle problems, for example) and the fact that we could never quite nail down what his best position and role was.
Maurizio Sarri used him as a pure attacking midfielder in a midfield three (the “Hamšík Role”). Antonio Conte made him a support striker. Frank Lampard had him playing all across the attacking band. At Crystal Palace, he was often lined up out wide, while under José Mourinho, he was often lined up on the bench.
Enter Tinker Tailor Tuchel. And enter Ruben Loftus-Cheek, deep(er)-lying midfielder. Or should we say, re-enter.
“Playing deep is where I played a lot in my younger days as a No 6 or No 8 so it is not too foreign. It is a position where you have to be safe and dictate the play. But it is hard sometimes as I wanted to run with it a lot more but I needed to be disciplined and pick my thee or four times to run forward.
“The manager says if I play this position be strong, use my body, dominate physically and play as I play. If you over think, things can go bad.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: The Times
And indeed, we might recall those youthful days, where Loftus-Cheek played so impressively in a double-pivot alongside Charlie Colkett, including in the 2015 UEFA Youth League final, for example. Or, going back even further, we might recall a couple years earlier, Loftus-Cheek going toe-to-toe with a certain Yaya Touré in a series of friendlies in the USA against Manchester City.
Colkett’s plying his trade in the Swedish top flight with Östersund these days. But RLC is back with Chelsea, back in the team, and quite possibly back to taking those steps forward.
Love to see it!