Ruben Loftus-Cheek believes he and the rest of the Chelsea squad are well placed for the start of the campaign as our pre-season concludes, but knows there is no substitute for the intensity of a Premier League fixture.
The 26-year-old was unable to travel with the rest of Thomas Tuchel’s squad on the summer tour of the USA, but joined up with his team-mates on their return before starring in the second of the friendly wins at Udinese which brought the curtain down on pre-season.
Featuring at wing-back at the Dacia Arena on Saturday morning, Loftus-Cheek scored the first goal before being tripped in the box for the penalty Hakim Ziyech converted to complete the 2-0 victory, with the Englishman looking fit and sharp despite missing that trip to America.
Having remained at Cobham building his fitness alongside our Academy teams, he is confident he is well placed for the start of the season given the high quality of that work, in addition to the Blues’ perfect finish to pre-season with back-to- back wins.
‘I felt good, I felt fit,’ said Ruben of Saturday’s game against Udinese, which was his first for the senior team in pre-season. ‘It was good to join back up with the team this week after missing the pre-season tour, but I feel good.
‘Training with the Under-23s and the Under-18s was hard, with the running we had to do. It was like a basketball game at times, so maybe that benefitted me. But I feel good and it’s good for the team to get two wins going into the season.
‘We’re a top team and when we move the ball it’s very difficult for teams, but they made it difficult for us at times. But, like I said, we’re happy with the wins and it’s a good end to pre-season. ‘
Loftus-Cheek’s own performance in that victory over Udinese dismissed any concerns he might be behind his team-mates in his preparations after missing the trip to the USA, as had that of N’Golo Kante – who also stayed in England to train at Cobham instead of crossing the Atlantic – as he opened the scoring in the previous evening’s game at the Dacia Arena.
Ruben feels their successful pre-season back in England was down to the focus they showed to concentrate on their own work and put their absence from America to one side.
‘It was a bit different and I think it was about enjoying the moment, not having our mind on what the boys are doing in America. It’s just about enjoying it and getting fit and that’s what we did.
‘I think me and N’Golo feel fit and ready to go, so for me there was no massive downside on that and it was good to meet the younger ones and play with them. You just have to focus on yourself and your own work and making sure you’re ready for the season. ‘
Loftus-Cheek certainly looked ready as he caused Udinese constant problems throughout our 2-0 win, despite his previous lack of minutes and playing outside of his natural position, operating as a wing-back in Italy. However, just as he did when taking on the same role in the Premier League thrashing of Southampton back in April, Loftus-Cheek thrived there, something he puts down to a combination of his versatility and increasing familiarity with the wing-back position.
‘I’ve played there a few times now. Once you’ve played there a few times you get used to the role, used to the visuals of being out on the wing and you learn each game. So I’m not surprised I start doing better each time I play there. But I think my attributes and physicality can suit many positions so I just try to bring that wherever I play on the pitch. ‘
Although he was a constant threat to the opposition, it was his goal on the brink of half-time which was the stand-out moment from the 26-year-old in Udine, as he instinctively lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net with a deft first-time finish from Mateo Kovacic’s pass.
‘I saw the keeper coming off his line and it was already bouncing so I just went for a flick over the top. It’s nice to get a goal, get on the scoresheet.
‘Last season I wasn’t playing in the positions to really get in the box too much, so if I can add goals to my game this season that will be good, but it depends on where I play. If it’s more defensive, maybe not, but if it’s more on the attacking side I can get some goals, so I’m looking forward to it.
‘I think naturally my game is attacking but I’ve played many positions. I can fill in at any position and do the job, but naturally I’m an attacking, creative player. So when it comes to those opportunities to attack and create chances, that’s when I feel most at home. ‘
However, Loftus-Cheek is fully aware that this is only pre-season and there are no points on offer until we kick off at Goodison Park on Saturday. With a week to go until the serious action gets under way with our visit to Everton for our opening Premier League fixture of the season, Loftus-Cheek is confident the Chelsea players have done everything they can to ensure they make a flying start to the campaign , although he insists no-one will hit their true peak until they have some competitive football under their belts.
‘I think we’re where we can be at the moment,’ he explained. ‘Of course you get fitter during the season. Two or three games of proper, intense Premier League football is the only way you’re going to get that top level.
‘The first couple of games you might feel a bit off it, but that’s going to be the same for every team, because it’s hard to match the intensity of a Premier League game in pre-season. So we have to be ready for it and I feel we’re as close as we can be and ready to take on the season. ‘