Ruben Loftus-Cheek must seize unlikely Chelsea opportunity

Krishan Davis
Loftus-Cheek must seize his opportunity
Loftus-Cheek must seize his opportunity

Chelsea's first-team squad is punctuated by several names whose days at the club appeared numbered in the not-so-distant past.

Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Jorginho, Trevoh Chalobah and latterly Marcos Alonso - who seems to have the endurance of a cockroach - have all experienced unexpected turnarounds in recent months and years.

Christensen, Rudiger and Jorginho famously went from beleaguered members of Frank Lampard's toiling squad to key figures in Thomas Tuchel's Champions League-winning side, while Alonso has yo-yo'd in and out of the team over the course of five years under four different managers

Of course, Ruben Loftus-Cheek cannot expect such a glorious renaissance, but recent history dictates that the midfielder's fate is in his own hands should he grasp every opportunity he is given.

The idea of the 25-year-old being anywhere near the first team was far-fetched a matter of months ago, but he unexpectedly remained at Stamford Bridge in the summer having avoided a second consecutive loan away from the club.

Suddenly the fan favourite finds himself presented with his best chance of regular first-team minutes at Stamford Bridge since a hugely disruptive Achilles tendon rupture in May 2019.

Loftus-Cheek had made 40 appearances in 2018/19 under Maurizio Sarri - starring in the triumphant Europa League campaign - before spending close to a year out with the injury, and upon his return he was shipped out on loan to Fulham for the 2020/21 season.

Having been unable to find an exit from Chelsea in the summer, the England international has until January at the earliest to stay and fight for his place as a rotation option at the very least - and, crucially, Tuchel trusts him.

The German has Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Kante as his regular rotation for two central midfield positions in his 3-4-3 shape, while Saul Niguez has joined on loan to provide initial cover before staking a claim to a regular berth once he's settled into English football.

Loftus-Cheek was given game time in pre-season / ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

But after a wobbly debut against Aston Villa in the league, that adaptation period could provide Loftus-Cheek with his window of opportunity as the fixtures come thick and fast - especially amid Kante's continuing, niggling fitness issues.

He certainly offers something different, with his marauding runs and raw physicality (and chiselled good looks) unmatched among the rest of the Blues' midfield contingent.

Loftus-Cheek's first serious chance to impress is likely to come against Villa in the EFL Cup on Wednesday night. Granted, not a competition known for making and breaking careers, but the Chelsea head coach is clearly planning to give his man a platform.

"We gave him some minutes against Zenit and that was a close game, it was a Champions League opener for us," Tuchel said in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

"We gave him some minutes and that was not a gift, he deserved it. I trust him because I see how he works and he adapts to the situation and he accepts his situation and what he makes out of it, doing very good in training on a daily basis. So tomorrow there is a big chance that he can show it on the pitch."

If the former Fulham and Crystal Palace loanee can find some form and outshine Saul, he could feasibly find himself fourth in the central midfield pecking order and commanding regular minutes as Kante struggles to maintain full fitness and Chelsea battle on four fronts.

From board-level to the supporters, the club has a complicated relationship with its academy graduates - attempting to manage cognitive dissonance between a relentless desire for success and giving regular opportunities to homegrown talent (something they have never been so close to finding a balance with on the pitch) - but Loftus-Cheek has always been the one.

Although the Blues' squad is littered with fine comeback stories, a remontada for someone who has come so close to falling through the cracks would trump them all. This could well be his last chance.

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