From the moment Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s loan spell with Crystal Palace ended back in May, the club have made little secret of the fact that they would love to have him back on their books for the 2018/19 campaign; sadly Maurizio Sarri seems intent on keeping hold of the England man.
Having left Stamford Bridge in search of game-time last summer, south London born Loftus-Cheek found a happy home at Selhurst Park, settling in well under the guidance of Roy Hodgson and starting regularly within the Eagles’ midfield. So impressive were his performances in red and blue that England boss Gareth Southgate decided to name him as part of the Three Lions’ World Cup squad out in Russia, where he didn’t disappoint.
The mixture of regular minutes and international recognition saw Ruben state publicly that this season was one in which he “needed to play regularly” for the sake of his own development as a professional; a stance which now feels at odds with Sarri’s immediate plans for the Blues first-team.
You won’t need me to remind you that Chelsea have a wealth of top talent on their books throughout the squad, not least in central midfield. Whilst Loftus-Cheek is capable of playing centrally or out on the left, the sight of characters like Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, Fabregas, Barkley and Pedro ahead of him is likely to provoke feelings of frustration at what is a crucial stage in the academy graduate’s career.
Sarri himself seems happy to hide behind the lower number of substitutes allowed in the Premier League compared to Serie A as an excuse for Loftus-Cheek’s recent exclusion but in reality, the midfielder will be wasted if he is merely kept around in case of an injury crisis in the Italian’s first season in charge.
There were suggestions from Sarri that regular minutes will be given to the England man when the fixture list intensified in a month or so but even those promises come loaded with the hint that he sees Ruben as nothing more than an afterthought to his first-choice core of midfield options.
Palace themselves have strengthened their midfield ranks after giving up hope of landing Loftus-Cheek. Max Meyer, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Jordan Ayew have been added to the squad, allowing for a far greater sense of strength in depth. Where that leaves the Chelsea man is up for debate, with the onus now on him to force Sarri’s hand one way or another in the months to follow.