Ruben Loftus-Cheek has always been a special talent, anyone who coached him during his time in the academy will tell you that. The first time I saw him in action was his senior team debut at the Bridge. I was seated in the East Lower for the final match of the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League group stage against Sporting Lisbon, a game that we won 3-1. Jose Mourinho brought on this tall, well built midfielder from the academy, replacing Cesc Fabregas. He was only on the pitch for seven minutes, but Loftus-Cheek made a real impact, with runs in behind the defence, and nearly getting on the scoresheet, if I remember correctly. After that cameo, I knew he’d go to the top, and now he’s starting to get there.
Loftus-Cheek has been with Chelsea since he was 8 years old, and has been one of the club’s best players at whatever level he’s played at. In the 2012-13 season, he contributed heavily to both the U18s and U21s, with some fantastic performances that rewarded him with a permanent place in the U21s for the upcoming season. He was a key part of the team that won the FA Youth Cup and U21 Premier League in 2013-14, alerting Mourinho to his talent, who brought him up to the first team in his second season in charge of the club.
After Jose Mourinho integrated Loftus-Cheek into the first team in the title winning season of 2014-15, the midfielder had a platform from which to build on. He made 13 Premier League appearances in 2015-16, scoring his first Chelsea goal in the FA Cup triumph over Scunthorpe United. His first Premier League goal came against Aston Villa in a 4-0 victory. Under the management of Guus Hiddink, he was then given consecutive league starts against Swansea and Manchester City. He was starting to make his mark in the Chelsea team.
“It was a really nice moment. My first goal, so I’m really happy with that. But just to come on and play 45 minutes is amazing. I’m just happy to come on and help the team.”Loftus-Cheek speaking to BT Sport after Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Scunthorpe
Loftus-Cheek has always been very patient when it comes to getting his chance at Chelsea. The season under Mourinho and then Hiddink was where he really started to put his name on the map. His understanding of the way thinks worked at Chelsea in terms of the youth not getting many chances, only made him work harder and he became determined to earn his place in the starting XI.
“Chelsea is always hard to break into, but I believe in myself, and if I work hard, then hopefully things will go well.”
The arrival of Italian tactician Antonio Conte stunted Loftus-Cheek’s development, limiting him to just 6 Premier League appearances as a rampant Chelsea stormed to the league title once more. The Italian saw the midfielder as more suitable to a role as a striker, where he was deployed with varying success in pre-season. The majority of his games throughout the campaign though, were spent on Chelsea’s flanks, usually supporting backup striker Michy Batshuayi in the early rounds of the domestic cups.
The lack of game time he was given in Conte’s first season was a frustration to both himself and the Chelsea fans, who knew what he was capable of.
When you don’t play, you really feel the difference of what matches give you. The match-sharpness, the fitness. It’s what you need to progress.
After a difficult season under Antonio Conte, Loftus-Cheek was sent out on loan to Crystal Palace to continue his development and gain some much needed experience in the Premier League. His early season form earned him a call up for the England squad, for fixtures against Germany and Brazil. He played 90 minutes against the Germans, winning the man of the match award in the process. Loftus-Cheek was a revelation for Roy Hodgson’s side, despite the 2 goals in 25 appearances potentially telling a different story. His form was so good for the Eagles in fact, that Gareth Southgate called him up to the England squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The summer of 2018 was a period of immense change at Chelsea. Antonio Conte was replaced by another exciting Italian, Maurizio Sarri, whose appointment promised to shake up Chelsea’s style completely.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was kept by the club and was handed the no. 12 shirt. The new system offered him a chance to cement a place at his favoured position in midfield. Due to his late arrival at pre-season after England’s successful run in the World Cup, Loftus-Cheek had some catching up to do. It became apparent pretty early on in the season that Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic were Sarri’s preferred choices for the LCM role, limiting him to the cup competitions.
As the season has gone on, Loftus-Cheek’s performances have given Sarri something to think about, most notably his hat trick in the Europa League. His recurring back problems have hampered his game time but he seems to have shaken that off and returned to the XI with style in the 3-0 win over Brighton.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is now Chelsea’s best LCM by far and is starting to get more and more time on the field. He’s certainly nowhere near his best which is brilliant news for Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri. His passion, desire and determination to succeed at Chelsea has given him the love from the fans, and he’ll go down as a Chelsea legend if he continues to improve at the rate he is now.
We’ve got an exciting decade ahead with Chelsea’s youth and Ruben is one of the best.