The final story on Chelsea’s crowded midfield situation is yet to be told. But one character, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, doesn’t want to be written out, at least not yet.
Both Dominic Fifield of The Guardian and Matt Law of The Telegraph — two men who pass for bastions of accurate reporting in the cesspool that is football reporting in England — say that FC Schalke 04 are interested in taking Loftus-Cheek on a season-long loan. Schalke’s thinking is that because Chelsea have added Mateo Kovačić, RLC has been bumped far enough down the depth chart that he won’t get enough minutes. Schalke, on the other hand, have an opening now that Max Meyer has joined Crystal Palace.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek interesting Schalke ahead of closure of Bundesliga transfer window, but England midfielder determined to prove he is worth a place in #CFC's first-team under Sarri https://t.co/JBWhHcnxGM— Dominic Fifield (@domfifield) August 13, 2018
Loftus-Cheek apparently has a different opinion. He doesn’t want to go out on loan. Despite the numbers, he believes he has a chance to fight his way into contention under Maurizio Sarri. Some of that may be due to a system which suits his strengths. Some of that may be due to the fact that he’ll be playing in what many consider to be his natural position, box-to-box midfield. None of that is settled, though, and there’s still time for him to change his mind, since the Bundesliga window is open until the close of business on August 31st.
Looking at the midfield right now, with Bakayoko on his way to Milan, the deep-laying playmaker role seems to have a 1-2 of Jorginho and Danny Drinkwater. To one side is Ross Barkley, to the other N’Golo Kanté. We have yet to see where Mateo Kovačić slots in, but the assumption is that if he’s a good fit, he’ll take over from Barkley. Depending upon position and Cesc Fabregas’ standing with Sarri, RLC could be anywhere from fourth to seventh in Chelsea’s midfield pecking order.
Given that Ruben said just last season that he regretted past decisions to accept a handful of minutes at Chelsea rather than loads of playing time on loan, I’m not sure that we can say for sure that he’ll stay.
Maurizio Sarri gave him qualified praise after the final friendly against Lyon, saying he needed “to improve from a tactical point of view,” and then handed him 22 (mostly anonymous) minutes against Huddersfield. We can’t know what “tactical point of view” means to Sarri. But we have hints. Jorginho has been active in waving Chelsea midfielders forward — most famously, gesturing Kanté to go forward against Lyon before slotting in a line-busting pass.
And there have been rumbles, all unofficial, that RLC can sometimes be a bit lackadaisical instead of being aggressive in his off-the-ball movement. So it may be that. Or it may not be.
There are a little over two weeks of training and two matches between now and the German team’s deadline. And they are reportedly not alone among European teams in seeking the young English midfielder on loan.
On the other hand, with three years to run on his contract and at the age of 22, this season feels a bit like a showdown year for Ruben. It’s time for him to prove he can fulfill his promise. Law reports that Chelsea may demand he signs an extension before going out on loan, a common practice. If he refuses, Chelsea would have to consider cashing-in on the former youth prodigy.
So this is still very much a dynamic situation. Stay tuned.