Sunday, December 5, 2021

I feel as good as I´ve ever felt – Loftus-Cheek enjoying injury-free life at Chelsea

SoccerNews in English Premier League 15 Nov 2021

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Ruben Loftus-Cheek “feels as good as he has ever felt” as the midfielder enjoys a spell of continued opportunities under Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.

Loftus-Cheek, who captained Chelsea’s Under-18s side to the 2014 FA Youth Cup Final, made his debut for the Blues aged just 18 as he replaced Cesc Fabregas in the Champions League against Sporting CP in December 2014.

However, before the start of the 2021-22 term Loftus-Cheek – now aged 25 – had started just 33 times for Chelsea across all competitions, making 82 appearances in total for his 3,420 minutes.

Injuries have restricted the development of the midfielder, who has used loan spells with fellow London clubs Crystal Palace and Fulham to find both form and fitness.

Indeed, he made 21 Premier League starts last term for Fulham – four more than in his entire top-flight career with Chelsea – as he scored twice and assisted three but could not stop the Cottagers from relegation.

Returning to Stamford Bridge in the close season, with Tuchel’s Champions League winners boasting the likes of N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek could have been forgiven for not expecting a chance with his boyhood club.

But the former Paris Saint-Germain head coach has granted the midfielder an opportunity, Loftus-Cheek afforded four starts and 10 appearances – resulting in 465 minutes across all competitions this campaign.

Finally in the reckoning and competing for his first-team spot, Loftus-Cheek expressed his current enjoyment while admitting injuries have limited his chances so far in his career.

“It doesn’t surprise me to be honest,” he responded when asked about his lack of league starts for Chelsea as he edges closer towards the 100-game milestone.

“I’ve obviously been here a long time but I’ve had a lot of injuries along the way and I’ve been out on loan twice now so that’s just the way my career has gone.

“It’s quite a low number that I’d like to build on and now is the time to really hit the ground running.

“After my injury, I struggled to come back and regain that fitness or feel confident in my body but now, after a season of playing a lot [at Fulham], I feel really good in myself mentally and physically. I’m in a good position to play well.

“I’ve always believed that I could make it but there have just been a lot of setbacks along the way. Despite that, I’ve always believed that I could play for Chelsea regularly.

“For me, it’s just about staying injury-free and I’ve been that for over a year now for the first time in my career. There’s something I can take from that and I’m really happy with myself.

“The extra work that I’m doing is keeping me on the pitch and available to play, which is the most important thing. On top of that, I have to do the work and play well on the pitch, which always feels natural for me anyway. When I’m feeling good, I generally perform well.”

A freak Achilles injury sustained earlier in his career has regularly hampered Loftus-Cheek’s career, though he believes he has now overcome that issue.

“It’s a thing of the past,” he added on his injury problems. “I feel really good, as good as I’ve ever felt, and I believe I’ve passed that point in my life now.”

Having spent a season at Craven Cottage, Loftus-Cheek returned to work with talisman Romelu Lukaku, but he has been most impressed by Edouard Mendy between the sticks.

The Senegal international has prevented 3.39 goals this season in the Premier League, the best save ratio of any goalkeeper in the English top flight, leading the Chelsea academy product to hail his team-mate’s efforts.

“We have a lot of players in the team who bring different qualities but Mendy has been fantastic in goal,” Loftus-Cheek continued.

“He’s been a constant from the start of the season and some of the saves he’s made have kept us in winning situations.

“That’s what you need if you’re trying to win a title, to have someone like that behind you who can always save you after a mistake. He can get you out of trouble and he’s been fantastic.”

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