Maurizio Sarri has finally complied with the incessant calls to start Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi and the pair have impressed greatly since featuring against Brighton on 3rd April, so much so that they look likely to become regular starters from now on.
The former has had to compete with Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic for a starting berth this campaign and has arguably been consistently better than both, although Sarri has, until recently, been inexplicably reluctant to use his younger players for a perceived lack of experience. The Neapolitan appears to have finally given the 6 ft 3 ace some hope for his Chelsea career, though.
Having chalked up two goals and two assists from central midfield in his last three Premier League appearances, 23-year-old Loftus-Cheek has soared above the aforementioned duo in the pecking order, although Sarri is still keen on bringing loanee Kovacic to Stamford Bridge on a permanent basis this summer, permitting that Chelsea’s transfer ban is lifted:
“He is only on loan, of course, but I’d like very much that Kovacic will stay with us. You know very well that, in that position, we have some problems because we have only Jorginho.
“In my opinion, Kovacic could become a very good central midfielder. Of course, he is not a defensive midfielder (at the moment) but, as you know, in that position I prefer a very technical player.”
The Real Madrid man has been used largely as a box-to-box midfielder this season but, as Sarri indicates, if he is to remain in west London, then a change of position may be required. Sarri’s pet, Jorginho, is the only player capable of playing at the base of midfield according to the Blues boss, although he believes that Kovacic, with a little work, could become a deputy for Chelsea’s pass-master.
Those comments surely bode well for Loftus-Cheek, who will have one less number 8 to compete with for the third spot in Sarri’s coveted midfield triangle.
The Londoner impressed while on loan at Crystal Palace with his pace, power and versatility, all of which should make him a shoe-in at Stamford Bridge but hasn’t thus far.
Chelsea fans should take the last couple of weeks, in which the number 21 has featured regularly, with a pinch of salt, as Sarri could quite easily just switch it up again without explanation and return Loftus-Cheek to the bench for a month or more.
The marauding midfielder surely knows that, regardless of his excellent performances of late, his place in the starting XI will never be guaranteed, although Sarri’s pipeline plans for Kovacic should make for pleasant reading.
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The Croatian isn’t powerful, quick nor lethal in front of goal – he hasn’t managed to find the net for the Blues in 43 appearances in all competitions this season – so perhaps he is more suited to the regista role, as Sarri indicates, while Loftus-Cheek continues to boss it further afield.
Sarri’s comments regarding his young players generally get more depressing week after week, but having shed light on his transfer plans for Kovacic, the former Napoli boss may have finally given Loftus-Cheek the vote of confidence he deserves.