LONDON: Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season under Maurizio Sarri has surpassed all expectations, but the visit of Crystal Palace on Sunday is a reminder of how again one of the club’s brightest prospects has fallen out of favour.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek made four appearances in England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in the summer on the back of a loan spell at Selhurst Park last season that offered him the competitive Premier League minutes he needed to convince Gareth Southgate he was worth taking to Russia.
However, the 22-year-old is yet to start a league game this season and didn’t even make Southgate’s squad for last month’s Nations League clashes as England took an impressive four points from trips to Croatia and Spain.
Southgate has repeatedly expressed his concern at the lack of opportunities handed to young English players. The summer signings of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic forced Loftus-Cheek further down the pecking order in an over-subscribed Chelsea midfield.
However, Loftus-Cheek has also been overtaken by another English international in Ross Barkley.
The former Everton midfielder admitted his frustration at watching from afar while Loftus-Cheek and company became national heroes in Russia.
The roles were reversed, though, as Barkley made his first England starts for over two years in Croatia and Spain, while Loftus-Cheek remained at home.
“He is becoming a very, very important player for us, and not only us, for the English people too,” said Sarri of Barkley on Friday.
After an injury-ravaged first season at Chelsea, Barkley is taking his chance to impress by scoring in each of his side’s last three Premier League games.
Loftus-Cheek has also provided a much-needed goal threat for Sarri in recent weeks given Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud’s struggles up front and a back injury to Eden Hazard, which means the Belgian is again unlikely to start on Sunday.
Yet, even after scoring a hat-trick against BATE Borisov, Loftus-Cheek started on the bench at Burnley last weekend before coming on to seal a 4-0 win in stoppage time.
Palace still keen
There is no secret that Palace would be keen to bring him back in January if a deal can be struck.
“We admire him, we like him very much, we wish him well, and of course, like a lot of other clubs, I’m sure when the day comes when he becomes available for a transfer, we will be sticking our noses into that,” said Palace manager Roy Hodgson recently.
Sarri ruled out another loan move on Friday. However, his man-management skills will be strongly tested in the coming months if he is to keep every member of a bloated squad happy.
Cesc Fabregas has had to play a supporting role since his return from injury, but scored the winner in a 3-2 League Cup thriller over Derby County on Wednesday.
Andreas Christensen’s father has suggested the Danish international will consider his options in January if he doesn’t usurp Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz before then.
Like Loftus-Cheek, Christensen is looking to become the first player to make the leap from Chelsea’s vaunted academy to a first-team regular since John Terry. Now 37, the former England captain retired last month.
Jadon Sancho has blazed the trail for young English prospects to leave the comfort of the Premier League’s traditional top six behind for more competitive action by turning down a lucrative contract with Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund.
At just 18, he made his senior international debut last month on the back of scoring five goals and providing eight assists already for the German giants this season.
Four years his senior, time is running out for Loftus-Cheek to remain loyal to Chelsea if he isn’t soon starting on a regular basis.