Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrated his 25th birthday in January. Had fate not conspired against, it’s likely the midfielder would’ve done so as a key member of the Chelsea first team.
The academy graduate possesses a rare blend of gifts. He has the technique, delicate touch and balance of a winger, but the physique, burst of acceleration and drive of a dominating central midfielder.
It’s why he was courted by Barcelona during his time in the Chelsea academy. And why he was earmarked for a first-team role under Jose Mourinho all the way back in 2014.
Yet injuries have hampered Loftus-Cheek throughout his time at Stamford Bridge. The most recent of which was undoubtedly the worst suffered by the England international.
The story has been told several times now. In an awkwardly-timed charity game in the United States in May 2019, Loftus-Cheek ruptured his Achilles tendon. He would miss more than a year of football.
It completely halted the momentum Loftus-Cheek had built up under Maurizio Sarri. The 25-year-old had established himself on the left of the Italian’s three-man midfield, proving a reliable goal threat and ball-carrier into the final third.
He returned for Chelsea’s Project Restart fixtures but was understandably rusty. That remained the case on the opening day of the current campaign as Loftus-Cheek had little time to get fully up to speed given the truncated pre-season.
It’s why Chelsea allowed him to leave for Fulham on loan near the end of the summer transfer window. And after a period of adaptation, he has become a regular starter for the Cottagers.
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I wanted a platform to play, to express myself and find my feet again after being out for so long, Loftus-Cheek said in an interview with The Times.
I came back after the first Covid lockdown but wasnt playing too much for Chelsea, just here and there. So for myself, mentally and physically, I needed to go somewhere I had the chance of playing regularly.
Im in a way better place mentally. Coming off the back of that injury, I doubted myself on the pitch. Ive never doubted my ability but just doubted my physicality.
“I had to build up the confidence again to go by people, to know my strengths again, which was hard and it took a few months of playing regularly.
Where I am now, Ive played the most 90 minutes Ive ever played in a row.
“Thats what I think most people dont understand: Im 25 now but this is the first time Ive done this amount of 90s in a row. I havent had much football in my career.
On loan Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing for Fulham (Image: Photo by Ben Stansall – Pool/Getty Images)
He added: A player with my ability should have played more [he has made 97 Premier League appearances], but because of injury I havent.
I feel like 25 to 30 is going to be my 18-year-old to 23, 24. Im doing it a little later than everybody else.
Loftus-Cheek has been predominantly used in a number ten role by Scott Parker.
There have been several eye-catching performances and moments of quality that have quickly been clipped up and shared on social media. But the decisiveness in the final third that blossomed in the season prior to his injury has yet to return.
His expected goals per 90 sits at just 0.15, which is bettered by four Fulham attackers to have played at least 500 minutes in the Premier League.
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It’s a similar story with expected goals assisted. Loftus-Cheek’s figure of 0.08 per 90 is only the seventh-best among the regulars in Parker’s squad.
There is an understandable counter-argument to those numbers that Loftus-Cheek is playing in a team at the bottom of the table. That it would be somewhat harsh to judge his output in a side battling relegation. And to a certain extent, that is true.
Fulham have, however, improved in recent weeks. They have lost just one of their last eight Premier League matches and have produced performances that have belied their position in the table.
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They’ve been creating chances too. Since the start of February, per Understat, Fulham’s non-penalty expected goals total is 7.51. In the same period, Chelsea’s is only 6.92.
So Parker’s side have been getting into good goalscoring positions on a frequent basis, especially in recent weeks. And it’s why Loftus-Cheek is averaging 3.39 touches in the box per 90. What he isn’t doing at least not yet is making the most of these.
That is something that needs to change in the weeks ahead. Chelsea have a plethora of attacking talent and reportedly want to add to that this summer. Unless Loftus-Cheek gets his numbers up, he will face a difficult battle on his return to Stamford Bridge to force his way into Tuchel’s thinking.

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