Football Twitter is a world where there are just two categories of youngsters – ‘generational’ or ‘trash’. But actually, these are just two extremes and most of the youngsters lie in between these two. Whenever Chelsea FT talks about its academy graduates and especially after this arguably good season, we tend just to discuss the contribution of likes of Mason Mount, Reece James, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Fikayo Tomori. The names that are pretty much forgotten as academy graduates are of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen. Christensen has performed very well and an unpopular opinion that he is the soundest defender technically in the current squad. The name Ruben Loftus-Cheek, in particular, stands out as he was one of the first English academy graduates at Chelsea, after John Terry, to break into the first team back in 2014/15 and impress managers & fans alike. In the 2017/18 season, the game time he got during a loan spell at Crystal Palace and subsequent selection in England’s National World Cup team has played a critical role in his development and self-belief. Even though he made his debut at the age of 18, 2018/19 season under Maurizio Sarri can be rated as his breakthrough season at Chelsea. A serious injury (ruptured Achilles tendon) in a friendly against New England Revolution, for a good cause, on May 15th 2019 with pending Europa Cup final was a big blow to him personally and the club as he played a pivotal role in the road to finals. He was out of the squad and for a long haul – felt shattered and stupid at the same time!
Need of the Time: Coming to the current season, Ruben has been under-recovery and rehab since the start of the season. He had not been at Frank’s disposal until February 2020. Frank Lampard has been all praise for Ruben and very cautious about his return. He has spoken openly about it and clearly understands the difference between being ‘fit’ and ‘match ready’. Lampard has shown pretty exceptional man-management in his first season at Chelsea, especially so off-the-field. He has answered critics and controversies in an elegant manner. When it comes to Ruben, his playing time needs to be managed in a smart manner and probably Frank Lampard is the right man for the job. Exposing Ruben to physical teams and giving him starts directly would not be an advisable scenario. He needs to be smoothened into the squad, brought in as a substitute and gradual game time can help him gain confidence. At 24, upcoming days and season are probably ‘make or break’ chance for Ruben at Chelsea.
In order to twist the take on RLC and what he offers to Chelsea, let’s do SWOT analysis! As FT would say, “Bruv, we don’t do that here.” BUT we’ll do it anyway.
Strengths: Standing tall at 191 cm, RLC is a perfect-built for Premier League. His vision and positional awareness are better than most PL midfielders. With a good striker up front, RLC is a deadly offensive weapon in and around the box. As seen several times, whenever a striker makes a near-post run, dragging defenders along; RLC is lurking around in the right place, at the right time. The perfect example of this was his first goal in the hat-trick against BATE at home in Europa League last season. Positional awareness and the first touch of Ruben is pretty impressive. RLC has a pretty wide passing range and can deliver delicious line-breaking through balls which were seen numerous times last season. On the defensive side, RLC has pretty good stats when it comes to tackling, interceptions, and aerial challenges compared to other Chelsea midfielders.
Weakness: As Ruben, himself said in a recent interview, “My physical presence is my strongest attribute but my body is my biggest weakness.” Injuries have been an integral part of Ruben’s career. A knee injury at the age of 12, back pain at 16, groin strain, thigh muscle strain, and ankle injury during his time at Crystal Palace. The worst and most painful being the ruptured Achilles tendon last season.
Opportunity: If Ruben manages his body well, Chelsea’s midfield is for the taking. Even though clubs’ midfield is overcrowded, but no one possesses the attributes that RLC has. Can we not comfortably say that Chelsea is yet to replace Frank Lampard? Chelsea needs a player who can dominate midfield – not just recover balls and pass to wingers but one who can make direct runs, dribble past defenders, shrug off players with his body, make run-ins to the box and is fearless to take shots from inside or outside the box creating goal threat. A goal-scoring midfielder per se! A quality that likes of Jorginho, Kovacic, and Kante, Gilmour lack in the current squad. Mount has dominantly taken up that role this season but has not been effective consistently throughout the season. Understandably so. Mount, playing his first senior season at Chelsea, needs support from someone who he has looked up to since his younger days. RLC can take up the role of number 8, one which Chelsea expected from Ross Barkley. RLC can also be advantaged with Tammy up front, a striker who has displayed a knack of making wise runs creating space for his teammates. Pretty sure, Ruben might be itching to play alongside Tammy and others, alongside whom he has played since he was 8.
Threats: I wish I could break my keyboard before typing this. Another injury, God forbid! He becomes a burden to Chelsea’s crowded midfield. He can easily be labeled as Chelsea’s Jack Wilshere. Poor management of his playing time could be threatening. Ruben himself has to learn to listen to his body more. “Manage his body” – as he himself said. With Connor Gallagher and Tino Anjorin (rated as next RLC) knocking the doors and Kovacic, Kante, Jorginho, Billy Gilmour, Mount, and Barkley already at disposal – the time is running out.
The time is now!