Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been with Chelsea from the very beginning. The midfielder joined the club in 2004 when he was an eight-year-old boy. He has risen through the ranks in the past 15 years, and the journey has not been comfortable. Despite the long road, it looks as though Loftus-Cheek is finally getting the reward at the top level.
It’s not as if this season started well for him either. Maurizio Sarri was the new boss at Chelsea, and he prefers to play in a 4-3-3 system. Loftus-Cheek is suited for the role of the advanced midfielder, particularly on the left side as he likes to cut into his right foot. But Sarri persisted with other players in the first half of the season. This was because he arguably did not trust Loftus-Cheek fully, and he was recovering from injuries as well.
Instead, Sarri went with one of Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic in that left midfield role. N’Golo Kante had already locked up the right midfield spot, so these two battled it out on the left. Loftus-Cheek did play some minutes and showed flashes of his ability. But recurring injury issues did not enable him to get a regular run of starts. Till the end of March, Loftus-Cheek started only one Premier League game for Chelsea. That game was against Wolves when he scored. He did get minutes off the bench in other games, but that was that.
Since April, the tide has turned. He has played more than 60 minutes in five of the six league games since then. Loftus-Cheek has also played an important role in Chelsea’s Europa League campaign, as they are now in the semi-finals. He has recorded three goals and three assists in that competition, where he has got regular playing time. In recent weeks, he has impressed in the league as well. He has three goals and two assists in the last seven league appearance for Chelsea.
He has looked better than both Kovacic and Barkley, and the numbers show that. Loftus-Cheek has nine goals and five assists this season in all competitions, giving him a goal involvement of 14. In comparison, Barkley has been involved in 13 goals, and Kovacic in a measly total of 3. Loftus-Cheek’s goal threat is superior, and he has taken more shots in the penalty area per 90 minutes than Barkley and Kovacic.
One of his attributes which stands out is the dribbling. He has a whopping 6.1 dribbles per 90 minutes to his name. Eden Hazard, who is one of the best dribblers in the world, has 6.2. Out of those 6.1, 3.8 dribbles are successful. Meanwhile, Barkley and Kovacic attempt 1.7 and 2.9 dribbles respectively per 90 minutes. Loftus-Cheek’s upper body strength enables him to drive past people with long strides. At times he almost glides on the turf when he is dribbling.
He is up there in terms of creativity as well. Loftus-Cheek attempts 1.4 key passes per game, compared to 1.6 for Barkley and 1.3 for Kovacic. He can improve in this aspect, but his five assists show that he can do so. Despite his low creativity, he makes up for it in terms of a goal threat. His expected goals per 90 minutes are 0.31, a number which is bettered only by Hazard, Gonzalo Higuain, and Olivier Giroud in this Chelsea team.
Moving to defensive contributions, Loftus-Cheek has his say there as well. He makes one interception per game, which is more than what both Barkley and Kovacic manage. In tackles, he attempts 2.6 per 90 minutes. That number is 3.6 for Kovacic, and 1.8 for Barkley. Loftus-Cheek is not the best at the defensive part of his role, but he is arguably a more balanced fit for the position.
His physique also makes him handy at set pieces, and in both sides of the pitch. He has already scored two headed goals this season. This ability is useful in the middle of the pitch as well, especially when the opposition is using the tactic of playing long balls. He has won 1.9 aerial duels per game, which is the most by any Chelsea midfielder.
Chelsea have secured their place in the Champions League for next season, and Maurizio Sarri is set to stay at Stamford Bridge. Making Loftus-Cheek a crucial part of his plans is necessary at this stage. He is a hugely talented midfielder and an excellent fit for the advanced role in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation. At 23 years of age, he still has a lot of scope to improve individually.
The Blues also have a transfer ban looming upon them, which makes keeping the existing players all the more critical. In Loftus-Cheek they have a gem which has the potential to become someone special. He has finally gotten regular starts in the latter part of the season, and he has impressed. It is up to Sarri and Chelsea to see that he continues to do so in the coming season and further.