Ruben Loftus-Cheek last night sent a message to Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, and any potential Premier League suitors, by scoring a brace for England under-21s.
The midfielder, who found himself on the periphery of the starting XI last year, has taken a backward step this season. The 21-year-old has picked up only 23 league minutes under Conte, having been included in matchday squads on just 11 of 29 occasions.
Yet within the English youth set up, Loftus-Cheek is proving what he can offer. While a friendly fixture against their Danish counterparts is hardly the sternest test, the Young Lions’ no.10 impressed, especially given his recent lack of game-time.
Neither was yesterday a one-off. Loftus-Cheek’s last six starts for the Under-21s have yielded five goals, meaning he has now been directly involved 11 times from just 17 appearances.
It would be understood if the young Englishman felt hard done by to have received so little opportunity at club level this season, yet with Chelsea’s on-field success and Conte’s preference towards 3-4-3, it has proven almost impossible to break into the side. Even Cesc Fabregas, arguably Loftus-Cheek’s main competition for a place, has had to contend with being rotated; this despite being one of the Premier League’s most celebrated players.
Given the almost certain continuation of this trend, at least while Conte is in charge, the midfielder may find more opportunity out on loan, or even through a permanent transfer if the club were willing to sell. However, as one the club’s leading young English talents, the Blues could be reluctant to let him leave permanently. A temporary move would be beneficial to both parties.
One potential destination is the Vitality Stadium and AFC Bournemouth. Eddie Howe has built an exciting, attacking side, involving several Englishmen. The Cherries have benefited this season from the loan acquisition of Jack Wilshere from Arsenal but will find it difficult to keep him on a permanent basis.
As Wilshere has made 25 appearances Howe will require a replacement and Loftus-Cheek is the ideal candidate, even as another one-year stop gap. Bournemouth have also shown a willingness to compete on transfers and could be in contention should the Blues sell.
In that scenario expect a host of mid-table sides, potentially even Everton, to show an interest.
Until then the midfield talent needs to maintain his positive attitude and continue to take any opportunities that arise, whether they be from Aidy Boothroyd in the national set-up or at club level. If Loftus-Cheek is able to stand out in Poland during the under-21 European Championships this summer, he could become one of English football’s most sought after talents.
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