Three hundred and eighty three days. That is the time frame between Ruben Loftus-Cheek's Premier League start against Southampton last weekend and his previous PL start for Chelsea. It's been a long journey of over two years but the erstwhile forgotten Chelsea academy graduate has a new lease of life in his Chelsea career.
The date was Wednesday, May 15th, 2019, at the end of Loftus-Cheek's breakout season. Chelsea had a post-season charity match against The New England Revolution tagged "Final Whistle on Hate". It was to be a match to raise awareness about both club's "Say No to Antisemitism" campaign, with the proceeds donated to 15 different organisations.
As part of the agreement for the match to take place, then coach Maurizio Sarri had to present a strong team for the game and he did oblige with Ruben Loftus-Cheek one of the players coming on for the second half of the game.
Unfortunately, Loftus-Cheek didn't complete the game as he suffered an achilles tendon rupture just 25 minutes after coming on. The injury ruled him out for the following season.
**Loftus-Cheek (m) suffered an achilles tendon injury in 2019
Ahead of the beginning of last season, Loftus-Cheek participated in a full pre-season and looked set to be part of Chelsea's squad for last season. However, coming from a long-term injury wasn't going to be easy and he unsurprisingly produced a terrible performance in his start in Chelsea's first PL game of last season against Brighton. Days later, the big midfielder was shipped off to Fulham on loan to possibly use the season to build his fitness and confidence.
Loftus-Cheek produced flashes of brilliance last season at Fulham but he was unable to reach anywhere close to the heights of the 2018/2019 season. By the end of last season, many Chelsea fans were already looking forward to his sale but manager, Thomas Tuchel offered him a life line.
**Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Fulham
The manager said he wouldn't judge a player that had not seen training under him and thus included the midfielder in his pre-season squad. With Billy Gilmour gone, there was little hope that the England international would fill the 4th midfielder space at Chelsea, left vacant by the Scotsman's departure. However, for a moment, it didn't look like it was going to happen.
Loftus-Cheek, perhaps, did not do enough to impress Tuchel in pre-season and the club tried to sell or loan him out during the transfer window (as confirmed by Tuchel himself) to no avail. With the blues somewhat "stuck" with him, the club went for a deadline loan signing of Saúl Ñíguez instead to fill the 4th midfielder spot.
With Saúl's Chelsea career not going anywhere as planned, Kanté's injury problems and Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic's periodic need for rest, Loftus-Cheek had a chance to feature for Chelsea from the bench.
He did well enough in his cameos from the bench to earn a start against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup where did performed very well. His decent performance off the bench against Manchester City and Juventus convinced Tuchel to hand him his first Premier League start against the Saints.
**Tuchel (l) and Loftus-Cheek (r)
Loftus-Cheek's latest excellent performance against Southampton cannot be ignored. At worst, he is currently Chelsea's fourth choice midfield option ahead of Saúl. At best, he is now a player Tuchel sees as a potential starter in any match.
What a journey the last two years had been for the now 25-year old player. If he continues this way, he may actually live up to his dream of becoming a regular at his boyhood club.
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