Ruben Loftus-Cheek picked up an assist on his first Premier League start of the season, the 3-1 victory over Southampton, while Chelsea’s potential £30million midfielder watched on
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was offered to West Ham United on deadline day this summer, when there were serious doubts lingering over his future at Chelsea.
On the same day, Saul Nigeuz joined the Blues on a season-long loan, a move met with great excitement given the Spaniard’s brilliant record for Atletico Madrid.
Just over one month later, however, it is Loftus-Cheek pushing for a spot in Thomas Tuchel’s XI and Saul out in the cold.
Many would have expected the pair’s roles to be reversed given Loftus-Cheek spent last season with relegation-bound Fulham while Saul enjoyed a La Liga triumph with Atletico.
But Tuchel appears to favour the Englishman to the Spaniard at this early stage of the season, recognising the 25-year-old offers his side qualities which many of his other midfielders do not.
Explaining why Loftus-Cheek was handed a start in the 3-1 victory over Southampton on Saturday, Tuchel said: “We decided to put Ruben because we were aware of their high pressing in midfield but we still wanted to go through midfield.
“Ruben and Kova [Mateo Kovacic] can not only pass but drive with the ball to escape the press. That is the reason we picked them.”
The German made a point of highlighting Loftus-Cheek’s desire to push upfield with the ball at his feet when passing avenues were shut off by Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.
This directness is not something many of Loftus-Cheek’s midfield teammates are renowned for. The likes of Jorginho and Saul himself are at their best when allowed plenty of time in midfield to distribute the ball from side to side, gradually creating gaps in the opposition ranks which can be exploited.
Against sides who press as high as Hasenhuttl’s Southampton, time on the ball is a rarity.
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Loftus-Cheek’s blend of technique and “drive” saw Tuchel hand him his first Premier League start of the season, an opportunity his manager admits he “couldn’t have imagined” six weeks ago.
As well as helping the Blues win three points, Loftus-Cheek assisted Trevoh Chalobah’s opener with a flick-on from a corner.
Meanwhile, Saul watched on from the substitutes’ bench, yet to make an appearance in the top-flight since his debut-to-forget last month.
The 19-cap Spanish international likely imagined he would be featuring regularly for Chelsea at this point of his loan, but things have not panned out as expected.
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Saul was pressed and harried in the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, during which he was hooked at half-time.
Tuchel insists there are more minutes coming the 26-year-old’s way, but it is hard to see where he fits into his manager’s plans.
And with Loftus-Cheek revitalised and offering something new in the centre of the park, Stamford Bridge chiefs may already be pondering if they will activate their £30million option to sign Saul permanently next summer.