Chelsea’s loss to Man City in the Caraba Cup final gave the Stamford Bridge faithful and Maurizio Sarri a lot to think about. The fixture highlighted that Chelsea are still a team that can defend well, that Maurizio Sarri perhaps isn’t as tactically inflexible as he’s made out, and, perhaps most important of all, it highlighted that the Blues had improved significantly since the last time City and Chelsea met.
Despite the loss, Chelsea can take a lot of lessons from the game, and perhaps the most obvious of these surrounds Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Chelsea have struggled for midfield creativity this season, with neither Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic able to impress at Stamford Bridge.
However, on Sunday, fans got perhaps their best sighting yet of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Brought in during the closing stages of the game, he immediately settled in the Chelsea midfield – and it’s fair to say that he impressed throughout the final minutes of normal time and throughout extra time.
Perhaps most impressive was his dribbling. He achieved 4 successful dribbles against City – the second of any Chelsea player on the pitch – despite his limited minutes. Only Eden Hazard was ahead of him, and that goes some way to highlighting the impact that he’s able to have. He was direct and to the point, and that’s what Chelsea have recently been lacking. Barkley (who had just 2 successful dribbles) and Kovacic (who didn’t feature) always pass sideways or backwards, and they’re rarely eager to drive forwards. Loftus-Cheek’s presence gave Chelsea a new way to attack, and his influence was huge.
Stats only tell half the story, though. He’s quick on the ball, he’s technically gifted, and he’s a relentless runner. In truth, Loftus-Cheek offers exactly what Chelsea’s midfield needs, and he could be hugely useful over the course of the rest of the season.
He’s had fitness problems this season, but he looks to be past the worst of them. It’s time for Maurizio Sarri to trust him.