Fresh from their FA Cup semi-final triumph over Crystal Palace, Chelsea turn their attentions back to Premier League action on Wednesday evening, as they face an intriguing clash with London rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
As Thomas Tuchel’s side seek a fourth successive victory in all competitions, the question now lies as to who the German will select for the meeting with the Gunners, having revealed in his pre-match press conference that midfield star Mateo Kovacic will absent for the match.
The Croatian playmaker is set to be unavailable for at least the next two weeks having been withdrawn early on in Sunday’s win over the Eagles, with his absence likely to be a huge blow to a manager that labelled him “crucial” earlier this season.
That being said, his stint on the sidelines can also offer a chance for £18m-rated man Ruben Loftus-Cheek to impress, with the Englishman having shone after replacing his stricken teammate at Wembley.
The 26-year-old netted a stunning opener in the eventual win, while also catching the eye with his notable all-action display, winning five duels and enjoying a 100% take-on success, as per Squawka.
That performance was dubbed “excellent” by Tuchel after the game – raising hopes of a potential start against Mikel Arteta’s side – albeit with the former Paris Saint-Germain boss also admitting that the £60k-per-week colossus has been “hiding his talent and his potential for too long in his career”.
That is not the first time that the Blues boss has spoken of the ten-cap international’s need to fulfil his potential, insisting back in November that the “next step” is for the midfielder to produce the goods on a more consistent basis.
His strike against his former club – whom he spent a season on loan with back in 2017/18 – was his solitary goal of the season, and his first in almost three years, with there no denying that his attacking output needs to improve to ensure a regular place in such a competitive outfit.
That being said, in Kovacic’s absence, the Lewishman-born ace – whose drawn comparisons to Yaya Toure from Rio Ferdinand – deserves the chance to impress in his preferred central midfield role, having performed admirably in a wing-back berth against both Real Madrid and Southampton in recent weeks.
With suggestions that N’Golo Kante’s powers are on the wane – and with Jorginho reportedly set for pastures new in the near future – it could well be wise for Tuchel to look to the future and hand some more regular game time to the academy graduate.
Not that he is a young prospect, but he still has plenty of years ahead of him should the west London outfit persist with his obvious talent, with the one-time Fulham loanee seemingly keen to make up for lost time having previously been out of action for over a year with an Achilles injury picked up in May 2019.
Prior to that under Maurizo Sarri, Loftus-Cheek had enjoyed a sterling season at Stamford Bridge, chipping in with 15 goal contributions in 40 games in all competitions during the 2018/19 campaign.
That season saw him particularly impress in the Europa League, recording an average of 1.2 key passes per game and 3.6 dribbles per game in the competition, as per WhoScored, albeit while missing the eventual showpiece triumph due to injury.
As such statistics demonstrate, there is no doubt a top-class player in there somewhere, having been dubbed “special” by Tuchel, with Wednesday’s clash against the Gunners offering him a chance to show what he can do on a more consistent basis.