Chelsea’s future midfield: Ruben Loftus-Cheek vs. Tiemoue Bakayoko

Following an impressive England debut, Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s stock has never been higher. Antonio Conte should already be planning for Loftus-Cheek’s rise to the Chelsea XI.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s loan to Crystal Palace raised plenty of questions in the summer. His performance in the bottom-placed team, though, has Chelsea looking forward to his return to Stamford Bridge next season.

Given Chelsea’s current starting XI, Loftus-Cheek’s best position would be as the ‘box-to-box’ man in a midfield-three. This would put him in a straight battle with Tiemoue Bakayoko to play alongside Cesc Fabregas and N’golo Kante.

Loftus-Cheek and Bakayoko are similar in how they play. Both are physically strong and like to move forward with the ball at pace. So far this season, Loftus-Cheek has contributed just one assist in a struggling Palace side, whilst Bakayoko has one goal and two assists to his name.

The stats suggest Loftus-Cheek is offering far more going forward than Bakayoko. Loftus-Cheek’s impressive dribbling, key passes and shots per game are all above the young French midfielder. On the other hand, Bakayoko has the edge on defensive stats, making more tackles and clearances.

A caveat to this is that Loftus-Cheek has featured primarily for Crystal Palace just behind the striker or, more recently, on the right side of a midfield four. Bakayoko, on the other hand, has often deployed deeper in a midfield pair, until the recent shift to a 3-5-2 formation.

In his short career, Loftus-Cheek has already shown that he can play in several positions. He played most of his youth football as either a holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, or further forward in a 4-3-3. He made numerous substitute appearances for Chelsea last season as an attacking player in a 3-4-3, whilst this season Crystal Palace has used him in a range of ways. At such a young age, he does not need to nail down one position.

Despite Crystal Palace’s woeful start to the season, Loftus-Cheek has been bright. Antonio Conte spoke recently about the youngster’s future:

“I think that we are talking about two young players, really good players and for sure Ruben (Loftus-Cheek) and Tammy (Abraham) will be the future for Chelsea. Now it is right for them to play regularly and Ruben, I read his interview, and he said his path is perfect and to play regularly this season for him is very important for his development then to come back and play for Chelsea with great maturity.” – Evening Standard

At just 21 years old, Loftus-Cheek has time on his side. Chelsea fans are desperate for an academy product to become a mainstay in the side. If he carries on his progression, there’s no reason why it cannot be him. His return next season will be like a new signing and a welcome addition to the squad.