Few Chelsea players caught the eye more than Ruben Loftus-Cheek on Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge in the Blues 3-1 win over Southampton.
The Stamford Bridge crowd got excited with his trademark driving runs from deep, combative nature in a deeper pivot role alongside Mateo Kovacic, and the brilliant dribbling technique that made him a standout in Chelsea’s academy.
Following the highlights shown on BBC’s Match of The Day, pundit Ian Wright gave his detailed assessment on the 25-year-old midfielder’s display which accurately captured the mood amongst a lot of Chelsea supporters towards Loftus-Cheek’s chances under Thomas Tuchel this season.
“What was good about Ruben Loftus-Cheek is that after the injury he had was going to Fulham, I didn’t think we’d ever see him go back to this kind of form.” The former Arsenal man stated.
“The display today was magnificent. People say about Ruben Loftus-Cheek about his energy and it looked like he was playing in himself. But today, in his own box, in midfield, everything. One of the things he’s going to have to do to stay in this Chelsea team, especially as someone who played in a pivot as a two, is score more goals.
“The power, the skill, he’s got everything. People say he hasn’t got the energy, look at him now, this is scary. Looking at a Ruben Loftus-Cheek who looks to me like he’s got the fire in his belly back. He’s dangerous.”
The comments were naturally accompanied by a package of Loftus-Cheek’s best moments on the afternoon which showcased everything Wright was explaining.
There was a confidence to Ruben’s game that was so present in the now-infamous run he had under Maurizio Sarri at the back-end of the 2018/19 season before suffering the heartbreaking Achilles injury which forced him out of action for over 12 months.
There was a general feeling amongst fans that cruel injury had prevented the academy graduate from ever making it as his boyhood club. Mostly a peripheral figure in Tuchel’s pre-season preparations, the concept of Loftus-Cheek gaining substantial minutes in the Premier League felt fanciful. But a combination of factors including some midfield struggles, Loftus-Cheek’s own ability to impress and Tuchel’s willingness to play a more favourable system to integrate his talent have led to a second chance.
Wright’s use of the word ‘scary’ is apt when Loftus-Cheek is in full motion with the ball, using all of his technical and physical gifts is a joy to behold. The experienced midfield pair of James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu had trouble preventing the Englishman’s powerful runs forward to open up space.
A touch map that was released on Chelsea’s own Twitter account detailed how varied Loftus-Cheek’s game was in Tuchel’s double six. Being able to drop deep and receive the ball from centre-backs, combative to make clean interceptions to prevent Southampton’s eager press overwhelming the Blues in the opening period, and having the bravery to make daring runs forward to add numbers to attack.
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His flicked header into the path of Trevoh Chalobah from a corner opened the scoring for Chelsea against the Saints on Saturday and set the tone for a dominant display.
Indicative of that creative urgency via WhoScored, Ruben Loftus-Cheek averages more successful dribbles per 90 than any other central midfielder in the Premier League this season. And that for context has only come from one full start and one substitute appearance.
It was the sort of direct midfield performance that Chelsea have lacked for several seasons. For all the brilliance of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, there is a sense the centre of the park can be static and reserved, predictably shuttling the ball towards the two wing-backs.
Loftus-Cheek’s varied movement provided chaos in a game the Blues needed to win and rediscover their mojo after two aimless displays against Manchester City and Juventus.
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With a run of games that Chelsea will be favourites for, there is no reason on merit Loftus-Cheek should not keep his place either in a pair or in Tuchel’s new 3-1-4-2 setup which finished the game against Southampton.
For all of his struggles, Loftus-Cheek still has a rare talent that makes him capable of being a special player who looks ready to reignite a promising career that appeared to be stagnating. Ian Wright’s comments showcase the talent Tuchel has, now it’s on Loftus-Cheek to grab this unexpected opportunity and prove once again why many of us have sung his praises for many years.
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