After impressing for England at the World Cup finals in Russia, football fans assumed they’d be seeing a lot more of Ruben Loftus-Cheek in a Chelsea shirt this season.
The powerful 22-year-old, who shone during his loan spell with Crystal Palace last season, looked comfortable on football’s biggest stage and Chelsea supporters were left salivating at the prospect of seeing the English midfielder playing regularly under new manager Maurizio Sarri.
However, Loftus-Cheek has only played 33 minutes of Premier League football for the Blues so far this season.
Injuries have been partly responsible for that statistic - he sustained a shin injury while on international duty with England last month - but Sarri has struggled to find room in his starting line-up for the Lewisham-born midfielder when fit.
That was until Thursday evening, when Loftus-Cheek made his first start for Chelsea since January 2017 in the club’s Europa League clash against Hungarian champions Vidi.
Sarri deployed the Englishman in a midfield-three alongside Cesc Fabregas and Mateo Kovacic, while handing a deserved rest to the likes of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.
Another midfielder named among the subs - and who has featured a lot more for Chelsea this season - is Loftus-Cheek’s compatriot, Ross Barkley.
The 24-year-old has played 197 minutes in the league this season, appearing in all but one of the Blues’ seven games, and came off the bench in the second half against Vidi in place of Loftus-Cheek in the 66th minute.
Chelsea fans make same point about Loftus-Cheek
However, Chelsea fans are all in agreement after watching Loftus-Cheek’s performance that he deserves to be starting over Barkley.
They believe the younger English midfielder offers more than Barkley, who has failed to score a goal or register a single assist in the Premier League this season.
Overall, it was certainly a positive showing from Loftus-Cheek, who probably should have been awarded a penalty following an Eden Hazard-esque run inside the Vidi box during the opening 45 minutes.
Referee Miroslav Zelinka, however, waved play on - despite the protests from Loftus-Cheek and his teammates.
Loftus-Cheek, who has such a presence on the pitch thanks to his imposing 6ft 3in frame, appears to possess all the tools required to become a top-class midfielder. A colossus in the same mould as Yaya Toure, perhaps.
But unless Sarri gives him more minutes, he may eventually decide that leaving Stamford Bridge is in his best interests.
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