[NEWS] Thomas Tuchel to take a look at the new Michael Ballack after Chelsea’s latest transfer decision

It was early into Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s Chelsea career that the
comparison was first made. And it came from Glenn Hoddle, who
spent three years in charge of the Blues before leaving to take
charge of England in 1996.

“He reminds me of Ballack – physically and the way he plays,”
Hoddle said in 2016 of the then 20-year-old. “He gets in the box, he
moves well off the ball, and he likes that position in behind the
front player.”

It was certainly high praise. Ballack, after all, won eleven major
honours in his career with Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen
and Chelsea and was regarded as one of the finest midfielders of
his generation.

Loftus-Cheek has forged his own path since those comments,
developed his own reputation within the game. Not that it’s been
easy. There have been false starts, loan spells, and one serious
Achilles injury which put his career on hold for more than a year.

Yet there remains an inescapable sense that the academy graduate
is a special player, that he has a unique and valued skill set. And in
April, five years on from Hoddle’s comments, the Ballack
comparison was made again. This time it came from Thomas

“I was quite a fan of him when he was even younger,” the Chelsea
head coach said. “He reminded us a bit of his style of play and
movements with Michael Ballack.

Tuchel will get to forge an opinion this
summer. football.london understands Loftus-Cheek will return to
Chelsea for pre-season training – which gets underway in a little
more than a fortnight – and have the opportunity to earn a spot in
the first-team set-up.

That will not be easy. Tuchel’s attacking line is stacked while it’s
unlikely Loftus-Cheek is deployed in the double six used by the
German, although he did feature in the role during his time in the
academy and Billy Gilmour’s expected loan move to Norwich City
doesn’t open up a space.

What’s important, however, is that Loftus-Cheek comes into pre-
season fit and confident in his body. That’s really what his loan at
Fulham was about. He didn’t have to hit double digits in goals and
assets, didn’t have to keep the club in the Premier League single-
handily, he simply had to play.

Loftus-Cheek ended the 2020/21 campaign having made 32
appearances in all competitions in which the agility and
maneuverability on the ball that defines his game had returned.

“The conversations I had with Ruben earlier in the season were that
he wasn’t feeling as sharp as he wanted to be on the back of a
really bad injury,” Frank Lampard explained in January before he
was sacked by Chelsea. “Seeing him play recently, I see him
looking fit, fresh, and strong. We know he’s an obvious talent so
that’s great.”

The end-of-season reports put together by Fulham supporters after
their relegation were not so flattering when it came to Loftus-
Cheek. He scored just once and didn’t register a single assist, the
consensus was the 25-year-old didn’t do enough at Craven
Cottage to keep the club in the Premier League or force his way
back in at Chelsea on his return to Stamford Bridge.

It would be wrong to judge Loftus-Cheek on that final output.
Tuchel certainly won’t. He is a man who is stats-oriented, a coach
who appreciates a deeper look into data. So let’s do just that.

What we will do is compare Loftus-Cheek’s output in the Premier
League at Fulham to that of his time on loan at Crystal Palace
during the 2017/18 campaign. The reason being he started the
same amount of games, racked up a similar number of minutes,
played similar roles, and represented clubs at the lower end of the
top-flight table.

During his season at Palace, per FBRef
One of Loftus-Cheek’s biggest strengths is his ability to bring the
ball upfield at pace. At Palace, he completed 61.8% of the dribbles
he attempted and averaged 3.03 carries into the final third per 90.
From that position, he was able to feed the ball into the 18-yard
box 1.44 times per 90.

When Loftus-Cheek embarked on his loan at Selhurst Park, he was
only 21 years old. The above very much paints the picture of a
young midfielder still finessing the finer points of their game,
something which he did the following season with guidance from
Maurizio Sarri, who used the England international on the left of a
midfield three.

Many expected Loftus-Cheek to simply pick up where he left off
after his Achilles injury. That was unlikely given he lost the best
part of 18 months. He had been forced to take a couple of steps
back, hence the loan move to Fulham.

It’s curious that Loftus-Cheek’s output in the Premier League
wasn’t dramatically different from that he posted at Palace. His
expected goals per 90 was 0.15 per 90. He averaged 0.38 shots on
target per 90. His shot-creating actions per 90 stood at 2.45. He
averaged 3.54 touches in the opposition area.

, Loftus-Cheek was a sporadic goal threat. His expected goals per
90 was 0.16 and he only registered 0.38 shots on target per 90.

He did fashion shooting opportunities for his teammates – Loftus-
Cheek posted 3.03 shot-creating actions per 90 – but many of
these were not of high quality, hence an expected assists of just
0.12 per 90. For a player with 3.85 touches in the opposition area
per 90, a coach would want more of a decisive impact.

His dribble success rate was also identical (61.8%). The only major
differences were his carries into the final third (1.79 per 90) and
passes into the 18-yard box (0.57 per 90) were lower, but that may
simply have been down to what was demanded of him within
Fulham’s attacking structure.

When Loftus-Cheek returned to Chelsea from Palace in the summer of 2018 off the back of impressing for England at the World Cup, he still had a fight on his hands to prove himself. It took
time but he eventually forced his way into the side and began to produce the level of performance many had long expected.

It would be churlish to suggest the exact same story will play out
but what is certain is Loftus-Cheek’s demise has been exaggerated. He may not be the next Michael Ballack but with trust and a little bit of patience, he can still blossom into a star at

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