Chelsea supporters have been given the biggest indication yet that academy graduate Ruben Loftus-Cheek figures strongly in head coach Thomas Tuchel's long-term plans.
Loftus-Cheek had been on the periphery since an Achilles tendon rupture in May 2019 brought an abrupt end to his breakthrough season with the Blues, spending close to a year out injured before being shipped out on loan to Fulham for the 2020/21 campaign.
Upon his return to his parent club in the summer the midfielder was expected to depart once again, either on loan or permanently, but a move did not materialise after Tuchel saw the 25-year-old up close for the first time in pre-season training.
The manager pulled Loftus-Cheek aside and gave him some confidence-boosting praise having been impressed by what he'd seen.
“Ruben walked across and Tuchel said something along the lines of, ‘You are special. I cannot believe you haven’t played more for Chelsea’," a source told The Athletic. "It was a great thing for him to hear.”
The deadline day arrival of Saul Niguez on loan from Atletico Madrid seemingly pushed the Englishman further down the midfield pecking order, but he has responded well to capitalise on the Spain international's difficult start and surge ahead of him in Tuchel's thinking.
Having struggled to break into the team at the start of the season, Loftus-Cheek has been given minutes in the Champions League, EFL Cup and the Chelsea's last two league games, including a start and assist as he impressed in the 3-1 win over Southampton on Saturday.
The Blues will have to contend with seven matches in the space of 22 days after the international break, and Loftus-Cheek is hopeful more game time will come his way.
“He is hungry — he is starving for it,” the source continued. “He is in the best frame of mind since the injury, but it’s not just mentally, it’s everything. He is feeling fit and healthy. It is all coming together now.”
Tuchel revealed his admiration for Loftus-Cheek back in April ahead of Chelsea's game against the Cottagers, comparing him to Blues and Germany favourite Michael Ballack.
"I was quite a fan of him when he was younger," he said. "He reminded me of Michael Ballack in his style of play, his movements. There were links with him moving to Germany. We are well aware of his talent."
Chelsea supporters will hope this isn't a false dawn and the player - who had been seen as a future superstar emerging from the academy - can finally reach his potential at Stamford Bridge.