The UEFA Champions League group stages are an intriguing place, often giving coaches the chance to rotate their squads. Given the makeup of the modern groups, there are usually fixtures where a coach can swap out players whilst giving chances to others. For the Blues, this was the Malmo fixture. The Swedish champions are a big club, but their squad depth and wage structure makes it nigh-impossible for them to compete at the highest level of European football.
So, Chelsea were able to rotate and in came Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Once compared to Michael Ballack, it is fair to say the academy midfielder has never really lived up to that kind of billing. Injuries and loss of form when played regularly has seen RLC become a stop gap solution in the Chelsea midfield. As coach Tuchel looks to hand out more minutes to the role players in the team, though, it was the box to box midfielder who was the most interesting to watch.
Despite having a nightmarish first 15 minutes – minutes in which Tuchel admitted he was worried he had made a mistake – the midfielder soon got it together. By the end of the evening, he was arguably the best player in a Chelsea shirt. And in his role as a pundit, former Blues hero Joe Cole was quick to praise up the player on BT Sport.
What did Joe Cole say about Ruben Loftus-Cheek?
Speaking about the result overall, Joe Cole said: “It was routine, they got the job done. It wasn’t amazing but there were a lot of positives to take.”
However, his praise was far more effusive when speaking about the young boys who are playing in the team, adding: “Ruben Loftus-Cheek was excellent, he delivered tonight. Callum [Hudson-Odoi] made an impact. They got the points in the bag and they can focus on the weekend now.”
For the player, the hope will be that he can take it the next level in terms of playing consistency. Though chances have been rare under Tuchel, an increased game day load means that rotation is going to be needed as we move into the winter months. As many other players have rebirthed their Chelsea careers under the German, so too can the midfielder.
A naturally gifted player who has been held back by injury and inconsistency, this was Loftus-Cheek’s first start in the UEFA Champions League since Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge. He took the chance to show the fans and the coach what he can do, though, and in the future that could be key to helping them stay established within the team.
With the likes of Ross Barkley often failing to make big on their chances in the team, RLC could use the opportunity to cement himself as a bench player. While it might not be the lofty heights that many had in mind when he first broke through, this could be the missing opportunity that the player needed.
He has shown up well against Malmo – can he carry it on into the weekend?