‘Lewisham Ballack’ Ruben Loftus-Cheek was excellent once again in Chelsea’s draw with Eintracht Frankfurt… so will Maurizio Sarri finally give him the game time he deserves?
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek performed impressively in Chelsea’s Europa League draw
- He set up Pedro’s goal and offered drive and dynamism in the Blues’ midfield
- Midfielder has been nicknamed the ‘Lewisham Ballack’ by Chelsea fans
- But his game time has been limited under Maurizio Sarri this season
- Chelsea’s prospective transfer ban could force the manager to play him more
With admirable imagination and lyrical dexterity, Chelsea fans have invented a song for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to the tune of Salt-N-Pepa’s 1986 hit Push It.
It goes: ‘Been Chelsea since youth but couldn’t get a game/On loan at Palace it just wasn’t the same/In centre mid now he’s playing every week/Lewisham Ballack, it’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek.’
While Loftus-Cheek will certainly enjoy the comparison to Michael Ballack, the German midfield maestro he would have studied at close quarters while a schoolboy in Chelsea’s youth ranks, the parts about playing time are less accurate.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek turned in an excellent performance in Chelsea draw with Frankfurt
Loftus-Cheek was key in driving Chelsea forward with his energy and dynamism on Thursday
If only the 23-year-old was actually playing every week, then Chelsea’s fanbase would be much happier. He has only started five of Chelsea’s 36 Premier League matches this season.
But when given opportunities, Loftus-Cheek more often than not thoroughly impresses and Thursday night was a case in point.
The Englishman was exceptional in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Europa League semi-final, first leg, not only supplying the assist for Pedro’s crucial away goal but setting both the tempo and the standard.
His 82-minute shift included 11 duels won (more than anyone else on the field), won nine of 11 take-ons (most), nine dribbles (most), three key passes (most) and a 100 per cent clearance record.
Some of his passing, with that smooth, almost languid, movement looked as effortless as when he used to play for Chelsea’s youth teams.
Loftus-Cheek salutes the Chelsea fans, who have nicknamed him the ‘Lewisham Ballack’
He played 82 minutes against Eintracht Frankfurt before Maurizio Sarri brought him off
German midfielder Michael Ballack lifts the Premier League trophy at Chelsea in 2010
LOFTUS-CHEEK THIS SEASON
Appearances: 37 (22 as substitute)
But the thrust he provided Chelsea from the left of the midfield three kept them ticking over and proved that the ‘Lewisham Ballack’ is an apt nickname.
Surely all of this energy and dynamism was noticed by Maurizio Sarri, but given how Loftus-Cheek has been in and out of the side all season, you do wonder.
While a recurring back injury has been a factor, his absence from so many of Chelsea’s starting line-ups this season ultimately comes down to Sarri’s trust in him.
As Glenn Hoddle said on BT Sport on Thursday night: ‘There’s more to come from this lad by the way, we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
‘If he’s given the shirt, if he knows the managers going to put him in on the big games, if he says you’re an eight for me, one holding player and two eights and you will be one of them.
The English midfielder is brought down by Eintracht’s Martin Hinteregger during the game
Chelsea may have little choice but to build their team around him if they suffer a transfer ban
‘There’s more to come, if he’s given the shirt, plays consistently. I think he’s frustrated, I see the frustration in his game, and then I think he can get back in the England team.’
With 22 substitute appearances this season, you’d be frustrated too, especially after his excellent season out on loan at Crystal Palace that confirmed the maturity of his talents.
But things could well change over the summer. If Eden Hazard departs for Real Madrid, as expected, then the need for a midfielder with an eye for goal increases.
That, coupled with the transfer ban FIFA have already implemented but Chelsea are appealing, should mean that Loftus-Cheek sees more game time.
The club will have little choice but to look to him and Callum Hudson-Odoi to propel them forwards.
Loftus-Cheek fires in a shot during Thursday night’s first leg of the Europa League semi-final
More game time for Chelsea should translate into a return to England duty for Loftus-Cheek
And while Hudson-Odoi has impressed in his first appearances in England colours this year, Loftus-Cheek has only played 81 minutes for the national team since he shone at the World Cup in Russia.
He should certainly be an integral part of Gareth Southgate’s midfield for the next three or four tournaments but that can only come about with more game time at Chelsea.
It can only be hoped that after his eye-catching performance in Germany, Sarri doesn’t remain wilfully ignorant of the ‘Lewisham Ballack’ for much longer.
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