Ruben Loftus-Cheek started a Premier League game for Chelsea for the first time this season on Saturday and provided an assist as the Blues beat Southampton 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.
His flicked header in the first half allowed Trevoh Chalobah to nod home at the back post in what was an assured display from the 25-year-old, who remains a very popular figure among supporters.
A confident performance from the bench against Manchester City reignited hopes that the midfielder could still have a bright future at his boyhood club, despite appearing to be considerably down the pecking order at the start of the campaign.
The arrival of Saul Niguez left him competing with the Spaniard, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley for, more often than not, just two midfield spots in Thomas Tuchel’s starting XI.
“In the last two games we felt something was lacking,” the German said of Loftus-Cheek’s display.
“So we decided to put Ruben in because we were aware of the high pressing in midfield and still we wanted to go through midfield.”
Previous managers, too, have spoken highly of the midfielder’s ability and potential. Maurizio Sarri’s time at Chelsea was up and down but he had high hopes for Loftus-Cheek, and a run in the Blues side could help him eventually reach those heights.
“He’s improving every day and I’m really happy that he was able to play for 90 mins,” Sarri said of him in March 2019.
“His potential is very, very high. Physically and tactically he is improving. He can become one of the best in Europe.”
Three years prior to that, during Antonio Conte’s brilliant title-winning debut season, Loftus-Cheek began to break into the first-team picture.
The Italian remained concerned about his injury record but, like Sarri did later, pointed to the huge potential and ability possessed by the midfielder.
“For now he (Loftus-Cheek) is in our squad, but this season he has had a few injuries,” Conte said in December 2016.
“There is a moment when I speak with my club and make the best decision. I think Ruben has good potential.
“He has great potential, it’s important to show this in order to improve. I count on him.”
Loan spells came the way of the player during the 2017/18 campaign with Crystal Palace and last term with Fulham, neither of which saw the player excel, yet his displays so far in 2021/22 point to a player continuing to improve.
That assist on Saturday took his club tally to 12 goals and 12 assists for the Blues. That resilience from previous spells may well have been aided by continued conversations with John Terry, even after the club legend left for Aston Villa.
“John has been helping me a lot this season,” he told the Evening Standard in November 2017, a few months into his loan spell with Crystal Palace.
“He’s always been supportive of me and will continue to be so. I’ve bumped into him a few times and we’ve had a few chats about what it’s like at Aston Villa for him and he’s asking me how I’m doing.
“He’s always giving me advice.”