Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a youth team product who has flirted with the idea of breaking into the first team for the last 18 months. The last time a player was successful in their attempt at that, was a mere 18 years ago. Who, you ask? Club captain and longest serving member of the squad, John Terry.
Loftus-Cheek has been at Chelsea since the age of 8 and has played a huge part to Chelsea’s success at academy level. The 20 year-old has won 2 FA Youth Cups, 1 UEFA Youth League and 1 U21 Barclays Premier League. He also recently won the Toulon Tournament with the England Under 21s, receiving the Player of the Tournament award.
His impressive displays for the Youth Team saw him rewarded with his professional debut in December 2014, in a Champions League Group Stage match vs Sporting Lisbon. He has, since then, been a part of the first team squad. But his chances have still been very limited.
The England U21 international played as a central midfielder for the most part of his time in the youth teams at Chelsea. However during his time in charge, Jose Mourinho opted to play Loftus-Cheek in a more advanced midfield position. And now, new manager Antonio Conte has made no secret of his desire to deploy the 20 year-old as a secondary striker. These positional changes have led to the question, where is the academy product’s best position?
So far in pre-season, he has been deployed as part of the front 2 of the 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation Chelsea have played. However, even though his displays weren’t as impressive as on previous occasions, Conte has pleaded to give it time.
And that leads on to the first argument for Loftus-Cheek to be a second striker. The Italian has assessed the youngster, alongside the rest of his squad. And if that is where the 47 year-old believes he will play and develop best, then Chelsea fans must trust that. Conte has proven himself to be one of the best tacticians in world football, so what’s to say he’s not right on Loftus-Cheek’s positional change?
His defensive ability is also questionable. He, like Fabregas, can not be trusted to shield the back four as he quite simply does not possess the natural defensive skills to be an all-rounded midfielder.
The work-rate of the 20 year-old has also come under the line of fire. In last years post-season tour of Asia, Mourinho stated that he does not work hard enough. Therefore, to implement him into the current Chelsea side, Conte may have no choice but to play him further upfield.
The youth team product also possesses an eye for goal. So by him operating as a striker, will allow him to score many goals and make a difference to the team. However, that eye for goal is something that makes him such an impressive midfielder. Chelsea’s new number 14’s late arrival into the box, like his goal vs Aston Villa last season, adds an extra dynamic to his game as a box-to-box midfielder.
Midfield is also where he has played for years. So to change him into a completely different position, is a tough task for the worlds best, let alone a 20 year-old. And the fact that’s where he is used to playing, is ultimately, where he is at his best.
He is undeniably, an extremely talented footballer. And him playing further upfield, like he did during pre-season, will lead to him going missing in games. So playing in the middle of the park, is where he can put his mark on a game.
At the current time, a secondary striker may be where Conte can utilise him at the greatest, but there is no questioning that he naturally is a central midfielder. Therefore, if he is to have a future in the Chelsea first team, it is in the middle of the park.