Ruben Loftus-Cheek has reaped the rewards of patience and hard work to become an important member of Chelsea‘s first team. The midfielder made his Chelsea debut in a Champions League group stage tie against Sporting CP in 2014 and was seen as the next academy graduate since John Terry to succeed in the first team.
The intervening years have been of immense patience and belief. This analysis looks at how his unique talents became a vital asset in the starting eleven and the changes he had to make to get there.
Deserving his chance
Loftus-Cheek is a big, long-striding midfielder who is adept at dribbling and running at defences with an eye for goal. His speed and big frame make it hard to shrug him off the ball, a nightmare for opponents.
Despite being an academy prospect, this exciting ball-carrier has had to earn his place as a starter. He had to make do with a squad role during José Mourinho and Antonio Conte’s title-winning seasons; even playing as a striker under the latter. His sparkling displays on loan at Crystal Palace in 2017/2018 earned him a place in England’s world cup squad.
His return to Chelsea coincided with Maurizio Sarri‘s appointment. A hat-trick in a Europa League game against BATE Borisov caught the manager’s attention and convinced him of his talents. Sarri could no longer ignore him on the bench but Loftus-Cheek had some defensive improvements to make, according to the manager.
With 0.8 tackles per game(87.5%), 0.6 fouls, 0.1 interceptions and 0.3 clearances in the Europa League. 0.7 tackles(64.7%), 0.4 interceptions, 0.4 fouls and 0.2 clearances per game in the league, with 4.1(53%) duels won, we can see that Loftus-Cheek is getting stuck in.
The 23-year-old’s persistent lower-back injury hindered his progress in the team but he has been steadily nurtured back to fitness. Since breaking into the starting line-up after the March international break, Loftus-Cheek made four successive league starts.
Six goals, the same from open play as Paul Pogba, and two assists in the league from five starts (895 total minutes); underline an impactful player who scores every 150 minutes. He averages one shot per game, 0.6 key passes, 1.7 dribbles(62% success rate) and 0.9 fouls won per game.
He is more effective as a starter. He has four goals and one assist from 22 substitute appearances but ten goal involvements (5G,5A) from 15 starts. The big lad is utilizing his 6’4 physique to become harder to halt with the ball at his feet. Which, coupled with his pace and dribbling, is a very big asset when on the attack.
Making his mark
A budding chemistry with Eden Hazard and left-back Emerson Palmieri has been noted during Loftus-Cheek’s run in the team. With five assists in all competitions, he averages 1.3 key passes in Europe and 0.6 in the league; and a 88% pass completion overall. His physical presence and dynamism on the ball create pockets of space for Hazard down the left channel; this allows Emerson to create width down the by-line when attacking and he can also count on Loftus-Cheek when defending.
Loftus-Cheek was a menace in the Europa League semi-final first leg at Eintracht Frankfurt. Four shots, three key passes, nine successful dribbles (the most in a knock-out match this season), 11 duels won and an assist. He took the game to the hosts in one of the biggest games of his career so far and could easily have scored.
Another wonderful display followed in the final home game of the season against Watford. Coming on after N’golo Kanté’s early injury, Loftus-Cheek headed in the all-important opener. He had two shots, 100% successful dribbles (five), one key pass from 93.2% pass success, two successful tackles, four interceptions and 13 duels won. He was yet again instrumental as the blues sealed Champions League qualification.
The form he is showing at the business end of the campaign is none more than he deserves and Chelsea are reaping the rewards with a top-four finish and a possible Europa league triumph. His form peaked at the perfect moment in the campaign considering his injury nightmare. Sarri has said he would not require surgery in the off-season. Touch wood he comes back injury-free and ready to take his game to the next level.