After utilising him in an unfamiliar defensive role in our last outing at Luton Town, Thomas Tuchel has been discussing Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s best position and how his impressive adaptability can be a valuable asset for the team.
When the line-ups were announced at Kenilworth Road on Wednesday night, few expected to see Loftus-Cheek starting in the centre of our three-man defence at kick-off an hour later.
However, with absences among the rearguard and options limited, Tuchel turned to a man who has played a variety of roles across his 105 games for Chelsea, albeit never before at the back.
‘We were open before the match and told everybody we had players in some positions they do not prefer, like Callum Hudson-Odoi as a wing-back and like Ruben,’ Tuchel revealed.
‘We need them and we need them right now. It’s the moment to step up and not be too angry or disappointed about the last week. This was the moment to show true team spirit and give the very best in an unfamiliar position, and they did.
‘I was very happy with the way we won the game and how we played the game. I did not over-expect performance-wise with a fancy game. What we did was very good from the mental aspect and it showed true character. That’s why I am very happy about it.’
While Hudson-Odoi has featured at wing-back on plenty of occasions since Tuchel’s appointment 14 months ago, Loftus-Cheek was asked to step even further out of his comfort zone. However, as he revealed after the game, he does have some experience as a defender, even if it was some time ago now.
‘I played centre-back when I was 12 or 13, for a season or two, and I never liked it but tonight was a bit different,’ he said on Wednesday. ‘I played as a centre-back in a back four when I was younger. This time I had more licence to step out and create the attack from the start, so I enjoyed it.
‘You have to do a job where you get put and I still tried to bring my qualities and what makes me Loftus-Cheek to the game. That’s all I could do but I really enjoyed it.’
Tuchel did not rule out deploying the midfielder further back in the future, claiming such drastic changes can often emerge from emergency situations, and he was clearly pleased with the 26-year-old’s overall display, which included a neat assist for Timo Werner’s equaliser.
‘It would not be the first time where a situation like this is the foundation for somebody finding a new position in the squad,’ he continued.
‘He did very well in the middle of the back three after a shy start. He grew into the match and found his top performance on the day, which helped us a lot.’
Yet Tuchel feels Loftus-Cheek’s deep skillset still best suits a role in the centre of the field, which is where he was moved to in the latter stages at Luton.
‘When he did it in the last 20 or 25 minutes, in the single number six position, this is his best position to have the most influence,’ added the boss.
‘He can impose his dribbling, driving with the ball and physicality higher up the pitch.’