What does Barkley's uprise mean for Loftus-Cheek?
Background image: Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek hasn’t had any luck with injuries. The most recent one ruled him out for almost a year. But the light is emerging at the end of the tunnel. He’s taking his time in making himself available for Frank Lampard during the final few months. But after overcoming one obstacle, another stands in his way to gaining a regular place at Chelsea. Once Loftus-Cheek regains full fitness, the 24-year-old must compete with an in-form Ross Barkley. The former Everton man has rediscovered his swagger under the legendary midfielder.
Indeed, he’s netting goals for fun after the winter break. Considering he can’t operate as deep as Jorginho or N’Golo Kante, nor does he possess the same passing accuracy as Mateo Kovacic, Loftus-Cheek must compete with Barkley for a place. That being said, would Lampard prefer picking a player coming off an injury layoff ahead of his most clinical midfielder? He has much to prove before breaking into the starting XI. Initially, making an impact from the bench is his best option to pave a way into his gaffer’s plans.
Well, he did like doing so last season. He netted twice from his six league goals as a substitute. The 24-year-old owns a dynamism that proves to be really effective against exhausted defenders. The Blues have lacked a proper super-sub under this system. Perhaps Loftus-Cheek can fill that void for the time being. Coming off a long-term injury, he’ll be slowly phased into proceedings. There is a distinct possibility he replaces Barkley when he isn’t performing as intended to. If he manages to outshine former Everton man on those occasions, his reputation could skyrocket in Lampard's eyes.
But he must display elements which his compatriot doesn’t have. Thanks to his physicality, there’s something unique about the Englishman’s style. He’s built like a 60s midfielder, while possessing the technical ability befitting the modern era. Loftus-Cheek has the skillset Lampard himself loves. He needs to use it appropriately. Because of the staunch build, he can contribute defensively better than multiple midfielders in the squad. His tough-tackling, tenacious nature makes it difficult for midfielders to oust him in duels.
If able to use his physical attributes to perfection, he’d enable the Blues to dominate the midfield battle more often. However, in order to really stamp his authority, he’ll need to get more involved in goals. Loftus-Cheek’s close-control, dribbling ability are all known for. He must retain a more productive touch in the final-third to add another dimension to Chelsea’s game.
Before his injury last season, he was among Chelsea’s more decisive midfielders. Indeed, ten goals and five assists across all competitions is a bright number for any midfielder. Though his contributions came in patches. Consistency is key to win over Lampard’s confidence. Even though the coronavirus has sent the squad into isolation, the Blues remain in a position to win silverware. The FA Cup and a top-four finish would sit decently after a very topsy-turvy campaign. Loftus-Cheek has the opportunity to help finish their season with a bang.
If he creates budding chemistry with the younger core and discovers a foot hole in their style, the Englishman should provide plenty of fireworks. His potential was never questioned, but he needs to remain fit. As long as he ensures it, his technical wizardry and intimidating presence should add bite to their midfield line. Friendly competition never did any harm, but Loftus-Cheek will be gunning for Barkley's spot once back roaring at Stamford Bridge.