When Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson walks into Stamford Bridge on Sunday, he’ll be looking to say hello to at least three players with whom he’s worked with before. Ross Barkley and Gary Cahill both played for him when he was England boss, but it’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek who’s the one on everyone’s mind.
The 22-year-old had a breakout season while on loan at Crystal Palace last season and managers tend not to forget about the best players on their teams. Hodgson will be hoping that Ruben doesn’t forget either, especially if things devolve to a point where he’d need to leave Chelsea, either on loan or permanently.
“When he left I was congratulating him on his season, on being picked for England. I said to him ‘Don’t forget, there’s always a place for you here; if you are moving on we’d love to have you back, but I’m now expecting you to go to Russia to do extremely well for England and I’m expecting Chelsea to welcome you back with open arms. I’ll be surprised if you come back here, but you know you’re always welcome’.
“That’s how we left it, and I think that’s what he hoped to hear from me, and expected. I’ll be happy to see him, whether he plays or not.”
-Roy Hodgson; source: Sky
Of course, it’s the not-playing part that’s continuing to inspire the constant conversation about his future. Before collecting over 200 minutes in the span of six days, Loftus-Cheek had made just three appearances totaling less than half that in the season’s first two months. And while he’s also battled at least one injury, the relative lack of playing time after being a key player for Palace has been hard to ignore.
Then again, even if he were the best player at Palace, when your competition is a key (best?) player for the World Cup champions, a key player for the World Cup runners-up, and the man the entire Sarri-ball is predicated on, minutes will be tougher to come by — and that’s before we consider that the rest of the midfield group consists of a suddenly resurgent and now complete former prodigy, and the greatest passing midfielder in Premier League history. Loftus-Cheek showing versatility by deputizing in the front-three for Pedro recently will help.
As ever, it’s not a straightforward situation. But Loftus-Cheek this week also re-declared his love for Chelsea and his desire to stay, so, surely, we can figure out a way to make all that work somehow.