The topic of youth integration at Chelsea is always finely precarious. For a club that flaunts such a substantial number of talented prospects, and an established pedigree at youth level, it’s wasteful that so few of those budding youngsters are unable to become recognised first-team starters.
Andreas Christensen has come mightily close to integrating himself into the Chelsea starting eleven, yet following a series of high-profile mistakes, he lost his starting position towards the end of last season. Similarly, throughout his senior career at Chelsea, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been on the periphery of a starting spot in their team.
Since making his debut for the club in 2014, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has amassed 35 appearances for Chelsea, scoring two goals. Additionally, he impressed while on loan at Crystal Palace last campaign, where he was regarded as one of the Eagles’ primary creative influences. Despite his commanding presence, the Englishman is endowed with silky flair and refined technical quality; his ability to drive forward with menacing runs is a valued feature of his game.
His performances have been of such respected quality, that he has attained nine caps for England, four of which were earned during the World Cup. Typically, such acclaim would warrant considerable involvement at club level, but Loftus-Cheek is predominantly stranded on the periphery of the first-team.
This isn’t a dismissal of his abilities as a footballer, rather an indication of the competition that he faces at one of the world’s most recognisable clubs. Maurizio Sarri has a plethora of midfield options at his disposal. The list includes players of great repute and promise, such as Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Fabregas, Barkley, Loftus-Cheek, Ampadu and Drinkwater. Accordingly, Loftus-Cheek faces a difficult to challenge to penetrate what is seemingly an impregnable Chelsea midfield.
At his age, and having only amassed 60 appearances at senior club level, the 22-year-old requires regular first-team involvement to further his progression. This season, he has just received 99 minutes of football under Sarri’s tutelage. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t disincentivise the promising Englishman nor set the foundations for a move away from Chelsea.
The midfielder can take solace in the example set by his fellow club and international teammate, Ross Barkley, whose opportunities at Chelsea have derived from his ceaseless commitment to hard work. At the end of last season, the former Everton midfielder had only featured in four games for Chelsea, and his situation seemed problematic. He has already attained 12 appearances this term, and he’s contributed towards four goals – two of which have been scored in his previous two appearances.
Seldom did you see Barkley complaining to the press regarding his disposition at the club, nor did he allow his injuries to curtail his chances of succeeding at Chelsea. Entwined with his commitment and admirable work ethic, the Englishman had the luxury (by being absent from Southgate’s World Cup squad) to spend the entirety of the summer with Chelsea, which perhaps enabled him to make a more profound impression on Sarri.
Loftus-Cheek wasn’t afforded such opportunities, a consequence of his World Cup participation, but what Barkley’s ascension from rotational figure to important first-team player illustrates is that timing is essential. If Chelsea’s squad were to endure an unfortunate injury crisis, Loftus-Cheek would plausibly be entrusted with more significant involvement.
The Englishman flaunts excellent potential, and he certainly has the necessary quality to represent a club of Chelsea’s stature. Naturally, there areas of his game that require improvement, such as his goal contributions, and decision-making (he often takes too long to act with the ball at his feet), yet, his promise is undeniable.
While I’ve mentioned the need for consistent involvement, he shouldn’t jeopardise his prospects at the club, in favour of short-term goals. Through perseverance and openness to adapt, Loftus-Cheek can succeed at Chelsea.
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