The Chelsea midfielder discusses his form, fitness and who he believes is the team's most important player...
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s entire career has been punctuated by dizzying highs and despairing lows, from making his senior debut for his boyhood club in the Champions League at the age of just 18 to picking up a freak injury in Boston four-and-a-half years later that left him unable to walk for months.
Even one of his standout moments in academy football, captaining the Under-18s to glory in the 2014 FA Youth Cup final, was tinged with the disappointment of being replaced at half-time as the Blues chased an extraordinary comeback against Fulham at Stamford Bridge.
The injuries and the loans, a season each at Crystal Palace and Fulham, have restricted the midfielder from racking up the starts and appearances he might otherwise have done as a Chelsea player in the seven years since his debut.
In all that time, Loftus-Cheek has started just 17 Premier League games for the Blues and recently made only his second-ever start in the Champions League as we won in Malmo. The Londoner, who turns 26 in January, acknowledges the disappointment of that reality but prefers to focus on the positives right now.
As he approaches the 100-appearance milestone for the club he signed up with at the age of eight, he is looking ahead to another century with the feeling that form and fitness is finally on his side.
‘It doesn’t surprise me to be honest,’ he says when asked about his lack of league starts as a Blue.
‘I’ve obviously been here a long time but I’ve had a lot of injuries along the way and I’ve been out on loan twice now so that’s just the way my career has gone. It’s quite a low number that I’d like to build on and now is the time to really hit the ground running.
‘After my injury, I struggled to come back and regain that fitness or feel confident in my body but now, after a season of playing a lot [at Fulham], I feel really good in myself mentally and physically. I’m in a good position to play well.’
Loftus-Cheek’s star always shone bright during his rise through the ranks at Cobham, even though competition was fierce and the fight to break through over the road was as difficult as ever. Yet his dream to play for Chelsea at senior level never wavered and his self-confidence was a key part of helping him through those challenging moments.
‘I’ve always believed that I could make it but there have just been a lot of setbacks along the way,’ he explains. ‘Despite that, I’ve always believed that I could play for Chelsea regularly.
‘For me, it’s just about staying injury-free and I’ve been that for over a year now for the first time in my career. There’s something I can take from that and I’m really happy with myself.
‘The extra work that I’m doing is keeping me on the pitch and available to play, which is the most important thing. On top of that, I have to do the work and play well on the pitch, which always feels natural for me anyway. When I’m feeling good, I generally perform well.’
After returning from a season on loan at Fulham last term, Loftus-Cheek rejoined the newly-crowned champions of Europe and has enjoyed working closely with Thomas Tuchel, his staff and recent signings such as Romelu Lukaku, Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.
However, there is one man who has impressed our number 12 more than any other during the opening months of the season, a signing from summer 2020 who has made the biggest difference according to Loftus-Cheek.
‘We have a lot of players in the team who bring different qualities but Mendy has been fantastic in goal,’ he adds. ‘He’s been a constant from the start of the season and some of the saves he’s made have kept us in winning situations.
‘That’s what you need if you’re trying to win a title, to have someone like that behind you who can always save you after a mistake. He can get you out of trouble and he’s been fantastic.’
For Ruben, the aim is to have the same sort of impact himself, to kick on and assert himself as a regular in the Chelsea midfield.
‘In my head, I’ve left that Achilles injury behind,’ he concludes. ‘I still have to do stuff to keep it strong and healthy but day-to-day in training and games it doesn’t come into my head anymore.
‘It’s a thing of the past. I feel really good, as good as I’ve ever felt, and I believe I’ve passed that point in my life now.’