Ahead of today’s match against Newcastle United, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has pointed to our opponents as the perfect example of how quickly things can change in football, as well as discussing the variety of roles he has fulfilled on the pitch for Chelsea.
The Newcastle side we will face at Stamford Bridge is likely to be very different from the one we beat 3-0 at St James’ Park at the end of October, both in terms of personnel and form.
Back then, the Magpies were struggling in the relegation zone. Now, following the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager and substantially reinforcing their squad during the January transfer window, they have surged up the Premier League table with six wins from their last eight games.
‘It can change so fast,’ said Loftus-Cheek. ‘You look at Newcastle now and they’re doing really well. They’re on a run of good games and they’re winning games, it’s taken them up to 14th now and they’re eight games unbeaten.
‘It can change really quickly so you can’t write teams off in any position. And any game’s a tough game in the Premier League, so we have to be ready.’
The 26-year-old also believes Newcastle’s example of how much things can change in the Premier League in a short space of time is relevant to our own situation at the other end of the table, showing why the Blues need to keep up the pressure on Manchester City and Liverpool in the title race, no matter how difficult it might seem to overcome the 13-point gap to first place.
‘Just like the bottom three, it can change a lot. Maybe it does change at the top, you never know.
‘Sometimes it does look like it’s impossible, when City are playing really well and they’re beating teams by five or six goals, but we have to take it game by game and make sure it’s not easy for them. We have to put the pressure on them because if they slip up we want to be closing that gap.
‘That’s just the way football is, you have to keep going and of course we want to win as many trophies as possible. We’re obviously disappointed we didn’t win the Carabao Cup, but we’re still in the FA Cup, we’re still in the Champions League.’
Loftus-Cheek also discussed the many different positions he has played, both earlier during his career and more recently for Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, having started at the centre of our back three in the FA Cup fourth-round victory at Luton Town and coming off the bench to replace Reece James at wing-back as we beat Burnley in the Premier League last week, and then featuring in that position again at Norwich midweek.
While he still considers himself a central midfielder at heart, the 26-year-old is confident in his ability to perform anywhere on the pitch, having moved around frequently over the years.
‘I played centre-back before when I was young, for a few games,’ he explained. ‘I’m comfortable in most positions, I played a few different positions growing up, that’s why I don’t feel out of place playing anywhere.
‘I trust my technique, I’ve always found reading the game quite easy, so he [Tuchel] sent me in at centre-back and I had no worries. When you’re put there you have to do a job.
‘I’ve always seen myself as a midfielder, I think that’s where I can affect the game the most. I like to win the duels and bring my physicality to the game, go past people, be creative. I’ve always thought of myself as a no.8, getting up and down, being effective in both boxes.
‘But I can play anywhere in midfield, and now obviously in defence. I played on the left or right of midfield in a 4-4-2 at Crystal Palace, I’ve played as an attacking midfielder for England, at Chelsea under Antonio Conte I played as a striker for a bit and I came on at Burnley at right wing-back last week.’
Loftus-Cheek is one of a number of players who has filled in as a wing-back this season, partly due to the injury problems suffered by James and Ben Chilwell, but as he explains, it is such an attacking role in Tuchel’s tactics that it is no surprise to see others doing well there, whether they are midfielders like himself and Saul, or wingers like Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech.
‘It’s a very advanced position,’ he added. ‘Just because it’s part of the defence on the team sheet, doesn’t mean it’s like that on the pitch. They’re actually in the box a lot and they’re involved in a lot of the attacks. So, in the way we play, it’s not a completely defensive position.’