Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the brink of another Chelsea breakthrough?

Ruben Loftus-Cheek produced another good performance in Chelsea’s 3-2 win over Derby on Wednesday night. He looks to be in fine form so can he now become a regular starter for the club in the Premier League?

The debate about Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s lack of game time is not new but it is one that has gathered in urgency. The midfielder turns 23 in the January transfer window and while he feasts on midweek action, younger men have been seizing their opportunities.

James Maddison has started every game for Leicester and has impressed. Lewis Cook and Harry Winks have each made eight Premier League appearances this season.

That is just the Premier League. Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho are impressing in the Bundesliga and, perhaps most tellingly of all, Mason Mount earned an England call-up for his performances in the Championship with Derby County – while on loan from Chelsea.

All of the aforementioned players are younger than Loftus-Cheek. Even Dele Alli is younger than Loftus-Cheek. So for all the talk of this being a Rolls-Royce of a player, the time for mere talk of his vast potential should now be over.

The good news is this has been a huge week for him under Maurizio Sarri. After scoring a hat-trick against BATE Borisov in the Europa League, Loftus-Cheek scored his first Premier League goal for Chelsea in two-and-a-half years in the 4-0 win at Burnley.

Another positive night in the Carabao Cup win over Derby strengthens his position further. Loftus-Cheek was one of Chelsea’s better performers in the 3-2 victory at Stamford Bridge that took Sarri’s side into the quarter-finals of the competitions.

Playing from the right of a front three, Loftus-Cheek offered further evidence of that rare combination of speed and skill. He is a horrible man to mark because not only does he have the ability to hold the ball up or roll his opponent, he can then run with it too.

His awareness of others around him is also impressive and having demonstrated that he can contribute in a number of different positions in midfield and across the front line, he is at least maximising the possibilities of being called upon by Sarri.

Even before the recent burst of goals, the Italian had made it clear Loftus-Cheek would be “very important and very useful” because of the club’s Europa League commitments. But there was also a warning about the scale of the task ahead of him.

“It’s not easy to play here because here there are 25 very good players and so it’s not easy to play in the starting 11,” he explained. It is stating the obvious, of course, but with Ross Barkley finding form and Mateo Kovacic’s quality apparent, the competition remains fierce.

Loftus-Cheek himself acknowledged Sarri had told him he needed to improve tactically but as with Barkley there appears to have been a genuine effort to do just that. “The quicker I get it, the more opportunities I will get to play,” he noted.

That is the crux of it now. Chelsea face Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and it is a fixture in which Loftus-Cheek has never started. There have been a couple of substitute appearances. Last season, he was both ineligible to play against his parent club and injured.

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Speculation he could yet return to Selhurst Park in January has never really gone away. Sarri has not exactly been emphatic. “It’s up to him if he wants to remain here. We are very happy with him, so I think that, until January, he will stay with us. I think.”

Roy Hodgson, meanwhile, is sick of discussing it. “I think I have answered this question before,” he said recently. “But if the question is should Ruben Loftus-Cheek be available in January, would Crystal Palace be interested in loaning him again, then the answer is yes.”

But for the first time in what feels like a long time, Loftus-Cheek is showing the Chelsea fans what he is capable of – and he is doing it not in a Crystal Palace shirt or an England shirt but in Chelsea blue. Perhaps the Rolls-Royce is finally going to be allowed out of the garage.

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