Gareth Southgate has warned a number of England’s fringe players that tonight’s game against Italy represents their last chance to secure their place on the plane to Russia but for Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the situation appears to be quite different.
After deciding to leave Stamford Bridge in favour of a season-long move to Crystal Palace, Ruben has gone from strength to strength in red and blue, winning plenty of admirers across the country. Given his pace, physically imposing stature and obvious quality on the ball, the youngster appears to have all the tools to make it to the top of the game; with Southgate himself known to be a big fan.
Having given him his full England debut back in November, the Three Lions boss witnessed a performance which forced plenty of otherwise uninterested observers to sit up and take notice, with many suggesting that, if he was fit and ready to go by the time the summer rolled around, Loftus-Cheek’s place in the final squad should be all but guaranteed.
Frustratingly, the dynamic midfielder has been suffering with an ankle problem for the last month or so and is only now in a position to start regularly for Palace once again. He did come off the bench to replace Wilfried Zaha in the final moments of the Eagles’ 2-0 victory over Huddersfield last time out but with no starts to his name in quite some time, questions over his return to fitness remain.
The mere fact that Southgate is giving Ruben longer than most to prove himself to be ready for the World Cup squad bodes well for his chances of being selected but even so, he’ll need to perform well in the games that remain for Palace between now and May to stand a chance.
With Luka Milivojevic, James McArthur, Yohan Cabaye, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha all jostling for position across the Palace midfield already, Loftus-Cheek will do well to win his place back immediately but that sense of healthy competition can only bode well for our chances of success in the weeks that remain.
Let’s hope Ruben plays out of his skin in the games we have left, guiding us to survival and securing his place in Russia simultaneously.