Ruben Loftus-Cheek: The forgotten graduate

One of the most hard-working players of Chelsea’s academy is now amidst an uncertain future, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a once core piece to Chelsea’s midfield now faces an unforeseeable fate. His slow upbringing on the first team was not easy and with it, came many obstacles.

The question is though; does he have a spot in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea? Is he the same player from years gone by? Can he still find a future in a blue shirt? Let us discuss the many possibilities that could happen for his future. But first, let us quickly break down Ruben’s young football career.

Chelsea's English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Group L football match between Chelsea and Bate Borisov at Stamford Bridge in London on October 25, 2018. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
Chelsea’s English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Europa League Group L football match between Chelsea and Bate Borisov at Stamford Bridge in London on October 25, 2018. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP via Getty Images)

The upbringing of Loftus-Cheek

The English midfielder has been at Chelsea since the age of eight. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was born and raised in Lewisham, Greater London, and attended his studies in Swanley, Kent. He shares both English and Guyanese descent having siblings that have also played professional football.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was always a bright prospect, impressing scouts in the academy at a very early age. He was part of the 2013-14 youth team that won the FA Youth Cup. Standing at an imposing 6 foot 3, Loftus-Cheek was gifted with incredible and graceful dribbling. His nimble feet and pace with the ball allowed him to be integrated into the first team early in his career.

The debut and early years

His first-team debut came on the 14th of December 2014 where he came on in the last seven minutes of a UEFA Champions League match against Sporting CP. Jose Mourinho, Chelsea manager at the time, promoted the youngster completely in February of 2015 where he made sporadic appearances off the bench. The young Chelsea graduate’s first start came against the premier league giants, Liverpool where he recorded a magnificent 100% pass rate in 60 minutes.

However, his role was predominantly cemented as a spark off the bench. Conversely, Loftus-Cheek would make a dire impact in certain situations such as in January 2016 where he scored his first senior goal for the London club helping them win against League One opposition, Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup. Albeit, a rough gem in the making, Loftus-Cheek was showing improvements to his game and was used more vastly the following years.

The progress of his development came at a stopping point in the 2016/17 season under new head manager, Antonio Conte. His skillset in midfield was pushed up higher up the pitch as a striker where the Italian manager experimented with him alongside Diego Costa in the preseason. Despite having sporadic appearances from the substitutes, Loftus-Cheek never got a guaranteed spot in the squad rotation from the 2016/17 title-winning season.

The following campaign, there was a chance for more consistent minutes at our fellow local London neighbors, Crystal Palace. Alongside Michy Batshuayi, Loftus Cheek would go on to contribute heavily playing 25 matches in all competitions recording two goals and three assists under the red and blue shirt. Under the experienced, Roy Hodgson, Loftus-Cheek increased his versatility in his game honing the attacking qualities in a 4-4-2 formation as a wide left-sided midfielder. His abilities on the ball drastically improved as he earned himself a senior call-up from Gareth Southgate for the England squad.

Loftus-Cheek and the breakthrough followed by trauma

In particular, the addition of Mateo Kovačić in the 2018 summer window attached necessary pressure for Loftus-Cheek’s development. The Croatian initially came on-loan from the Spanish giants, Real Madrid. The inclusion of Kovacic was to bring more mobility to the squad after the arrival of Jorginho. The Italian regista required specific compliments in the 4-3-3 formation Maurizio Sarri implemented. The defensive-minded engine of N’golo Kanté and dynamic dribbling of a mobile midfielder were essential to Sarri’s style of play. Furthermore, The Blues also acquired Ross Barkley in the previous 2018 January transfer window who was seen as another top English prospect mounting more competition for Loftus-Cheek.

Nevertheless, Chelsea’s inconsistencies for goals screamed for a sudden impact off the bench. That’s where Ruben Loftus-Cheek came into the forefront. The improvements he made tactically and his work rate off the ball helped paved his way to the starting eleven. Eventually, he scored his first hat-trick for the club in the Europa League against BATE Borisov after improving his attacking output. The hard work of Loftus-Cheek paid out as he continued to make waves on the pitch and over time became a crucial part of Chelsea’s midfield. Over time, he overthrew both Mateo Kovačić and Ross Barkley as the main left sided midfielder.

The unpredictable performances from Kovacic and Barkley gave the window to perfectly slot in to be Chelsea’s missing piece to the jigsaw puzzle. He finished the season with 37 matches played and a record-high 10 goals and five assists in all competitions. Additionally, Loftus-Cheek ended the campaign with an astronomical 67% dribbling rate which was only behind Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovačić. His contributions unquestionably assisted Chelsea to win the Europa League at the end of the season which should be applauded for.  

Unfortunately, all the progress the Englishman made came crashing down when he suffered a tragic Achilles injury in a charity match against New England Revolution late in the season. Consequently, the Englishman missed out on the chance to play with his fellow academy graduates under Frank Lampard in the 2019/20 season. The path to recovery was never smooth sailing as he suffered several setbacks before returning to the pitch. Despite the injury, Loftus-Cheek signed a new five-year contract at the club on July 6th, 2019 extending his stay until 2024. When the midfielder finally made his return, he would go on to play two FA Cup matches and one match in the Premier League 2. The next season, Chelsea loaned him to another London neighbor, Fulham in hopes of finding his feet again. Progression was at long last made as Ruben was able to stay consistently healthy and play a total of 32 matches in all competitions under the former English Footballer, Scott Parker.

A Future Unknown

 Now we touch on the future and where he could be playing this upcoming season. Much has occurred at the club since his breakout season. Kai Havertz and Mason Mount are now both core pieces to Chelsea’s midfield and leave a huge question mark on Loftus Cheek Chelsea’s career. However, things may not be over with Tuchel’s desire to add necessary depth in certain positions which include the middle of the park.

One of the many reasons Loftus-Cheek excelled in the 2018/19 season under Maurizio Sarri was the ability to drive forward and be a threat in front of a goal. The latter is one of many struggles Chelsea have suffered this past season with no player recording more than 12 goals. Jorginho was Chelsea’s high goal scorer in the league with seven goals. Tammy Abraham and Timo Werner both recorded 12 goals respectfully in all competitions. The reintroduction of Loftus-Cheek could help add potential quality in the final third. With his natural strength, the Englishmen is permitted to maneuver through pressure with ease. Shortly after the comeback, the 25-year-old had to regain his confidence on the ball as he struggled to impress Frank Lampard in pre-season.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek hobbles off injured in Chelsea's post-season friendly in the United States. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek hobbles off injured in Chelsea’s post-season friendly in the United States. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Keeping Loftus-Cheek

The expectancy of his Chelsea career is worrisome as many fear that his future could on different pastures. The emergence of Mason Mount has added further obstacles for Loftus-Cheek to hurdle over but there could a possibility of him staying put. Not only have Chelsea lacked physicality in midfield but the hunger to carry the ball up the pitch is exactly what Loftus-Cheek brings. Despite the critics, Tuchel was surprisingly adamant about the struggles and revealed he was a big fan of Loftus-Cheek when he was younger. Tuchel praised and compared the English midfielder to fellow German football legend, and former Chelsea player, Michael Ballack.

One of the biggest transformations Thomas Tuchel has established is the defensive organization throughout the pitch. The double-six pivot midfield balances out the backline and allows the inside forwards to attack with the wing-backs. Not only has Tuchel has laid out different formations throughout games such as a three-man midfield but he’s had to rely on midfielders that have played alongside Loftus-Cheek. That of course consists of Kovacic, Kanté, and Jorginho. It is without a doubt that Loftus-Cheek’s best position is as a left-sided midfielder of a three-man midfield. His soft feet and dribbling prowess are strong traits Tuchel could utilize against rigorous opponents. 

Unlike Mateo Kovačić and Billy Gilmour, RLC adds more presence and physicality in midfield, something Chelsea has struggled against physical opponents. If Tuchel selects a midfield three, the opportunity might once again open up. Of course, we have to remember that the player from three years ago isn’t the same as he is now. The severe Achillies injury has taken its toll on the young Englishmen as he sometimes resembles a shell of his former self. But, this, however, could all be confidence and mental issues and all he might need is a closer look under a different manager.

 The Ultimate Reality

It’s well known that Chelsea is spoiled in midfield with both Billy Gilmour and Connor Gallagher knocking on the door of the first-team squad. The presence of these new bright midfield prospects shouldn’t be new to Lotfus-Cheek’s Chelsea career. The midfielder has had to fight for his spot throughout the years earning his minutes whenever he was tested upon. There is also speculation that both Gilmour and Gallagher could be loaned to different English clubs opening another opportunity for the midfielder. There is also the chance of the midfielder departing as reports have stated that new Lazio and former Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri is keen on a reunion with the English midfielder.  Fundamentally, Sarri was able to get the best out of Ruben Loftus-Cheek by helping him improve his tactical positioning and therefore we could see the Chelsea graduate exist. We also have to remember that Loftus-Cheek isn’t cemented to one position. He’s been deployed higher up the pitch. For example, at Crystal Palace, Loftus-Cheek played as a wide midfielder. Nonetheless, Thomas Tuchel will have a better analysis this upcoming July when Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns to training camp.       

Although the odds are against him, there shouldn’t be any reason to deny any small glimmer of hope for Loftus-Cheek to be given a spot in Thomas Tuchel’s 2021/22 first-team squad. It is still unknown whether he can regain his sharpness from three years ago but his opportunity for redemption is not out of reach. The rebirth of his Chelsea career is still presently alive but only time will tell where his future could lie. 

Sources:

  • FotMob app
  • Premier League app
  • Fbref.com
  • Chelsea Official Website
  • Transfermarkt.com
  • The Sun
  • Football Association Website

Written by Rey Stevinho (@Rey_Blues30)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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