Chelsea have made a flying start to the Premier League this year and at the halfway point, they are standing atop the league table. The 3-4-3 system that new manager Antonio Conte adapted has worked wonders for the Blues and they went on a 13-game unbeaten run since the month of October in the league, until they were stopped by Tottenham last week.
The former Juventus and Italy manager has looked to keep the starting line-up as stable as possible and hasn’t been forthcoming in ringing in the changes in the playing XI. What this has meant is, there have been very limited opportunities for the squad players to get a look-in into the team on a regular basis.
And one such player who has been relegated to watch from the sidelines for most of the season is midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The talented youngster, who rose to prominence in the past year, has had to spend a lot of time on the fringes of the first team this term under Conte.
The duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic have been an ever-present in the middle of the park for Chelsea under the Italian, with the manager relying on Cesc Fabregas and Nathaniel Chalobah to provide backup.
What this has meant for the 20-year old Loftus-Cheek is that he has made only 3 appearances in all competitions, out of which only one has been in the Premier League when he came on for the last 9 minutes against Leicester City in October. The other two games he played in were against Bristol Rovers and Leicester City in the EFL Cup.
The England Under-21 star had been knocking on the first team doors since the title-winning campaign in 2014-15 under former manager Jose Mourinho, but he got a regular run in the team under interim manager Guus Hiddink in the latter parts of the last season after the Portuguese manager was sacked. Loftus-Cheek made a total of 18 appearances in all competitions combined, scoring three goals and assisting three more.
A deep-lying midfielder by trade, he was used in a slightly advanced role by the Hiddink last year, where he showed plenty of positive signs. At 6ft 3in, Loftus-Cheek is a strong and powerful player, who is adept at shielding his defence and at the same time can make late runs into the box and offer a goal threat. Conte, earlier in the season, even said that he could see the 20-year old play as a forward. However, that seems to have been the undoing for Ruben, with Conte not certain over the best position for the youngster.
With Oscar leaving the Bridge, there might be a rise in the number of opportunities that he will be afforded, but with Chelsea chasing the title, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them bring in a more proven midfielder in the winter transfer window which would further hamper Ruben’s chances.
After having somewhat of a breakthrough year last season, his progress seems to have stalled, with no game time this term. Loftus-Cheek has shown great potential in his short time with the first team and the signs are there for everyone to see that he could turn into one of the finest midfielders.
But for that, he will need to play regularly which has not happened at Stamford Bridge. So, it would be best for both Chelsea and Loftus-Cheek that the midfielder spends some time away from the club on loan, probably with a Premier League club where he will be able to add more minutes so as to aid his development.