Dominic Fifield on 12 September 2018
Ruben Loftus-Cheek hopes to make his mark for Chelsea in the Europa League over the next few weeks but has opened the door to a potential return to Crystal Palace on loan in January if opportunities continue to prove limited at Stamford Bridge.
The England midfielder made his first start of the season in Tuesday’s friendly victory over Switzerland, having been limited to 33 minutes of club football under Maurizio Sarri. The 22-year-old was understandably ring-rusty and, while he may not start Saturday’s home match against Cardiff, he is hopeful a more cluttered schedule across three competitions will offer him game time.
Unlike another England international, Danny Drinkwater, who has not been included in Chelsea’s Europa League squad, Loftus-Cheek should be involved next Thursday when the club play at Paok Salonika. “There are a lot of games coming up, so I think there will be more opportunities coming for players that are not playing every week,” he said. “But I’m not sure when I am going to play. It is just down to me working hard in training.
“A lot of my game is based on physicality and I obviously didn’t feel my fittest against Switzerland but I will build on that. I’ve spoken a lot with Sarri in the past couple of weeks and he’s told me I need to learn tactically and his ways in training. The quicker I get that then the more opportunities I will get to play.”
Loftus-Cheek, who has been at Chelsea since the age of eight, spent last season on loan at Palace and played 24 top-flight games. The south London club inquired about bringing him back to Selhurst Park over the summer only for Chelsea and the player to resist another season-long move, with Sarri keen for the midfielder to fight for his place. Yet Mateo Kovacic was signed on loan from Real Madrid, with no option to buy, to push Loftus-Cheek further down the pecking order.
Any mid-season move would be complicated by Chelsea’s desire to secure the player to a new long-term deal, with his current contract expiring in 2020. But, when asked whether there was a chance of rejoining Palace, who have one loan spot vacant, Loftus-Cheek replied: “Possibly but it is still far away. There are still a lot of games to play and I just have to see what happens. Right now I am at Chelsea and my focus is at Chelsea and learning at Chelsea. That is in the future and we will deal with that when it comes.”