Ruben Loftus-Cheek: England star is finally getting recognition he deserves at Chelsea – can he be the next Frank Lampard?
Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored against Brighton on Wednesday to follow up from his goal against Cardiff.
It was in another promising showing that has Chelsea fans clamouring for his inclusion on a permanent basis all season.
His eight goals is the most from any midfielder at the club this campaign.
Despite his obvious talents, Maurizio Sarri has remained frustratingly stubborn in his handling of the England international, but has that finally changed?
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After all the cigarettes had been chewed, Sarri must have given his fingernails some serious consideration.
Chelsea were being held by Cardiff and the match was in stoppage-time. Hopes of a top four finish were fading by the second, the fans who travelled down to Wales had lost patience long before, they made that perfectly clear and not for the first time this season.
In the 91st minute, Loftus-Cheek powered a header over the line, Chelsea had won, only just, and Sarri had been redeemed.
It was not the first time he had done this, coming off the bench to score previously against Burnley and Fulham, this was a man who knew how to seize his opportunities, no matter how limited they may be.
Football is filled with salvation from the most unlikeliest of sources. Think Lilian Thuram for France in the 1998 World Cup semi-final against Croatia or Portugal’s Eder in the Euro 2016 final.
For Chelsea however, it should have been more obvious, it had been to everyone else and for quite some time.
On Wednesday night, Loftus-Cheek was on target once more, against Brighton, he opened up his body and curled his strike into the bottom corner to put the result beyond doubt. In truth, Chelsea were never in danger of losing, there was not much danger of anything.
Loftus-Cheek has started only twice, playing just 564 minutes in total, compare that to fellow countryman Ross Barkley who has 12 starts with 3 goals and the calls for the aforementioned to feature on a more regular basis would appear more than reasonable.
One of the games most promising talents, it felt as if Loftus-Cheek, still only 23, would not get the chance to prove himself at Chelsea, his career drifting towards a series of loans, keeping him on board to appease the FA and their homegrown initiative.
Despite talk of a move away last summer and January just gone, a possible return to Crystal Palace, Loftus-Cheek’s professionalism has been admirable.
Criticism from Sarri, even after a hat-trick in the Europa League, has never been followed with any petulance or late night platitudes on social media. He has been with the club since he was eight, it is obvious what Chelsea’s means to him.
Acclimatising to life in the Premier League is unmerciful, the glare constant. At Chelsea, it is even more intense, every game carries expectancy from a title challenge, to a European tie.
For a midfielder, especially in recent years, contending with the weight of Lampard’s No.8 shirt and the sizeable void he left, only adds to the burden.
But in Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea have a man capable of progressively filling that gap and of course with time he will get better, which in itself is a frightening prospect.
In Lampard’s first season for Chelsea, there was five league goals, followed by six. His third year at Stamford Bridge would begin a decade-long run of reaching double figures, bringing with it three Premier League winner’s medals and ending with him as their all-time record scorer.
There is some way to go before Loftus-Cheek can match any of those feats, but the early signs are promising.
While Lampard worked hard on his talent, endless drills on the training ground, complete dedication, Loftus-Cheek was born with it, a natural.
To watch him play in the flesh is impressive. Loftus-Cheek, at 6ft 4, is like a human-spider hybrid, all limbs and power capable of breaking forward in purposeful strides, all whilst leaving his marker, literally, and confused as to how he has lost out on the ball despite having a five-yard head start.
The season may only have six matches remaining, but the penny may finally have dropped for Sarri and the Loftus-Cheek conundrum.
Better late than never or so they say and worryingly for a long while it appeared as if it would be too late.
Source: SportsLatest TS