It has been a mixed start for Chelsea in their first year of Maurizio Sarri’s tenure and despite high levels of inconsistency the boss has stuck to roughly the same team for most Premier League games. One position however that is really up for grabs is the left centre midfield spot.
With N’golo Kante undroppable and Jorginho seemingly the only current player who can play the holding role in Sarri’s system, it is between Matteo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley to fight for the more attacking spot of the midfield three.
Matteo Kovacic has been the preferred choice for Maurizio Sarri thus far starting 15 of the 23 league games played and coming off the bench a further five times. Out of the three options it is safe to say Kovacic is definitely the most competent defensively and he is also quite slick and silky with his dribbling through midfield.
However, what lets Kovacic down is his ability in the final third as this season he has zero goals and only two assists. Yes he does offer good link up play but in a Sarri system the left central midfielder needs to offer more going forward than Matteo has. Also, despite playing in 20 of the 23 league games so far Kovacic has not played a full 90 minutes and is often sacrificed as the first substitute as he can’t offer that cutting edge.
Now the man who has been used least out of the three and some could justifiably say unfairly so, is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The academy graduate has had his injury problems this season but even so has only featured in nine Premier League games and of them nine appearances eight were from the substitutes bench.
Despite a lack of opportunities, Loftus-Cheek has three goals in the league alongside three in the Europa League where he has impressed in the back ground. Ruben got off to a slow start but has drastically improved even though he has sometimes had to deputise on the wings. He offers power in the midfield alongside tricky dribbling and always looks to go forward. It did seem he was starting to get in the favour of Maurizio Sarri before his most recent injury so lets hope he picks up where he left off when he returns.
Ross Barkley has had a strange opening to the campaign, he was the only man out of the three to have a full pre season but quickly lost his place to Matteo Kovacic, then he scored three goals in three games and looked unstoppable before losing his form again and being a back up once more. He has featured in 19 Premier League games this season however 12 of those appearances have been from the bench so he seems to have been the second choice thus far.
Barkley does receive a lot of criticism but out of the three he has definitely been the most efficient with three goals and three assists to his name including a dramatic last minute equaliser vs Manchester United. Now Ross may have that moment of magic where he can produce end product in his locker but it still isn’t shown enough to justify him being Chelsea quality. he has much improved his defensive game but he does not have the athleticism and dribbling capabilities of the other two which is necessary seemingly for his position in Sarri’s system. A lack of confidence and constant sideways passing also seems to let the Englishmen down very often.
My judgement is that when fit Ruben Loftus-Cheek needs to be he first choice left centre midfielder for Chelsea. He is a fan favourite, he is powerful, has good link up play, can dribble gracefully and has the all important end product.
He has had a lack of opportunities but when playing has been superb and will only get better if trusted. Barkley can have his moments of magic but is average more than he is quality whilst despite being maybe the more well rounded central midfielder, Kovacic just isn’t what we need in the position and is nearing 100 games without a goal.
He has been at Chelsea since he was a kid and has been given hype for about five years now. It is time for Loftus-Cheek to be made a first team regular and live up to his potential.
By Joe Martin
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