Ruben Loftus-Cheek is caught in a numbers game in Chelsea’s midfield and the clock may be running out for opportunities to make it easier on himself to play significant minutes this season. Somewhere between three and six players stand between him and a regular role. The transfer window doesn’t close until August 31st in Spain, Germany and France, which means a loan may still be in the cards, even though he reportedly turned down a chance to move to Schalke just this week.
“He’s potentially a great player. He has to improve from the tactical point of view. But I think that’s not a problem. He’s very young. I think he can be a very beautiful player for us.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Guardian
RLC wants to stay and fight for his place, His play may not yet be up to Maurizio Sarri’s standard — an unremarkable 22 second-half minutes against Huddersfield didn’t change that notion — he’s at least saying the right things. In an interview on Chelsea’s website Loftus-Cheek embraces the new system, which he thinks suits his strengths.
“I’ve played in a few positions, mostly on the left of midfield last season. Playing in a 4-3-3 in an attacking midfield position is kind of my position really, my suited position, so hopefully I can bring my best football to the team.
“The boys are working really hard trying to understand how the boss wants us to play, on and off the ball, and it will only get better.”
RLC has been dogged in the past by a reputation for a languid style of play and not always running hard. In Sarrismo he’ll be expected to make the kind of piercing runs without the ball that have led to N’Golo Kanté popping-up in the most unexpected positions. Intellectually at least, he gets it.
“I have just got to work hard, try and play my best football, and try and get as much time on the pitch as possible.
“You can only really set specific targets when you know you’re playing every week, so for me it’s just a case of getting my head down, working hard, trying to understand the manager’s tactics and going from there.”
Sarri isn’t mushy-mouthed on the training ground about what he expects his players to do, so Ruben shouldn’t be in any doubt. Nor, despite his 22 years, is he a raw neophyte anymore. After a successful loan to Crystal Palace, where Roy Hodgson played him whenever healthy, plus a World Cup under his belt, he’s matured into a senior professional football player.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek: Made more successful dribbles per 90 (3.5) than any other central midfielder in the Premier League last season (20+ apps)— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 14, 2018
For more player stats -- https://t.co/9sgt1jdjXJ pic.twitter.com/raD8c3RKub
“We had a period at the start where we didn’t get a win for seven games. I’ve experienced that and it wasn’t nice. And I’ve experienced a good run at the end as well, and a decent run in the middle, so I feel like I experienced a lot in one season - different managers as well.
“The loan did me really good. I feel like I have got that experience of a Premier League season now, and international football as well. I feel more mature as a player to help battle for three points every game.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Chelsea FC
But that’s all talk. Sarri will want to see progress on the pitch. And with the likes of Jorginho, Kanté, Ross Barkley, Mateo Kovačić, Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fàbregas all vying for minutes in Chelsea’s midfield, Loftus-Cheek is going to have to show something special to get the minutes he says he wants.
The clock is ticking.