There’s no doubting that Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a talented footballer. Chelsea have a real player on their hands, but his future at the club is nowhere near certain. There are doubts over Loftus-Cheek’s position on the pitch, contract situation, and compatibility with the current coach. Maurizio Sarri needs to resolve all of them sooner than later. Let’s take a deeper look at the situation.
Loftus-Cheek has been with the Chelsea set up for more than a decade. He spent ten years with the youth team before making the jump to the senior squad in 2014. Crystal Palace took him on loan last season, but he is back at Chelsea now. He has made nine league appearances already and looks set to beat the 13 he made in the 2015-16 campaign.
On the pitch
The primary problem with Loftus-Cheek is regarding his best position. Under Antonio Conte, he played a pre-season as a second striker. More often than not, he has been utilised in midfield, though Sarri has tried to experiment. Due to limited attacking options, Loftus-Cheek has played in the inside forward role at times this season. He has started just one Premier League game this season, scoring three goals.
The 22-year-old is a strong and physically imposing player. His long legs and body strength make him a great ball protector. Technically he is well above average, and so is his passing ability. On the other hand, his dribbling and crossing are not as good, as he has played in midfield for most of his career. Loftus-Cheek is the kind of player who excels in arriving late in the box rather than making runs behind the defence. All this suggests that he should flourish more in the midfield rather than attack.
“He’s improving a lot from the tactical point of view. In future, he will be a midfielder but sometimes we need to use him as a winger, especially in the last part of matches with his physical impact.”
Sarri said in December about Loftus-Cheek.
It looks as though midfield will be the place for him, but he is still adjusting to the new coach and to the Premier League in general. Consistent game time till the end of the season will do wonders for him. Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic are the two competitors for said game time, and the latter poses a bigger threat. Kovacic may continue to be Sarri’s first choice left midfielder, but Loftus-Cheek has shown that he can offer more than Barkley to the team.
Off the pitch
Loftus-Cheek signed a five-year contract extension in 2016 at Chelsea. He has been loaned out once though, and Crystal Palace were eager to have him back this season. Chelsea resisted, but it will be harder to do so if he doesn’t play many games, plain and simple.
His long-term allegiance with Chelsea could prompt him to stay patient, waiting for his chance. Sarri has vocally shown confidence in Loftus-Cheek, asserting that he is an important player for Chelsea. If that does not translate to playing time on the pitch, then he will look elsewhere. He’ll turn 23 in a couple of weeks, so he’s not really that young anymore.
It’s clear that Loftus-Cheek has the potential to excel as a midfielder for Maurizio Sarri. He will be 23 in the summer transfer window when he will most likely have to make a decision. Should Sarri show faith in him ahead of the likes of Ross Barkley, the picture could change. But if playing time is still hard to come by in May, then even Chelsea fans can’t question him if he opts to leave them after more than a decade.