Loftus-Cheek hopes Chelsea form can spark late run for World Cup spot


Ruben Loftus-Cheek has revealed his relief at finally being fit enough to become a regular starter for Chelsea and has admitted it would mean the world to him if he makes a late run into England’s squad for Qatar.

The Chelsea midfielder has taken a while to regain his form after sustaining a serious achilles injury in 2019 and he has needed mental toughness to overcome some challenging periods. Loftus-Cheek knuckled down during the recovery process and he is starting to build on the promise he showed as a youngster.

The 26-year-old, who is in line to start when Chelsea seek to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League by beating RB Salzburg on Tuesday, has made 14 appearances in all competitions this season and has a chance to regain his England spot. Loftus-Cheek is well known to Gareth Southgate, who took him to the 2018 World Cup, and his form has boosted his hopes of going to Qatar.

Loftus-Cheek said: “It would be amazing. It would mean a lot. Going into the 2018 World Cup you see your trajectory go upwards and to be at the next World Cup if everything goes well. A lot has happened in that time and I am just happy and grateful that I am fit and healthy and playing football now consistently.

“If I go to the World Cup it would mean the world – but that is not at the forefront of my mind now. It would be selfish to think about my personal aspirations rather than the club at the moment.”

Loftus-Cheek, whose contract expires in 2024, won the last of his 10 caps during a friendly win against USA four years ago. Yet Southgate likes him and Graham Potter believes the Chelsea academy graduate would be an asset for England.

“He has really impressed me on and off the pitch,” the Chelsea head coach said. “He clearly needs a good fitness level to carry his body around the pitch but the quality is there. He is putting himself into the situation that he is one of the players Gareth is looking at.”

Loftus-Cheek experienced relegation from the Premier League when he was on loan at Fulham during the 2020-21 season. He admitted that he has had to be strong to deal with the disappointment of his body letting him down.

“The toughest side has been the mental side to it,” he said. “Even though I have had to put a lot of energy and work into the gym to get back to how I am feeling, the mental side of it – staying focused and diligent – and having the belief to get back to where I was, was the hardest thing.”

Loftus-Cheek revealed that a conversation with Andy Murray was helpful last summer. “I went to see him train and play at Surbiton,” he said. “I am a big fan of tennis. We had a chat while the Laver Cup was on. It was good to see how he sees himself and his career, and the injuries that hindered him through it. He had a big one with his hip. It was a good chat to compare our careers and injuries have been a big part.”

Loftus-Cheek said he is feeling the “strongest, fittest and quickest I have been” since his achilles injury. “Over my career I have had injuries but I have always tried to find out what my body needs,” he said. “I have built up a library of things I need to do to feel good. That has taken time but I feel I know my body.”

Part of Loftus-Cheek’s appeal to Southgate may be that he has occasionally filled in at right wing-back for Chelsea. England have problems on the right, with Reece James and Kyle Walker major doubts to go to Qatar.

Chelsea, who will win Group E if they beat Salzburg, have travelled to Austria without N’Golo Kanté, James, Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana. Potter said Koulibaly’s knee injury is not serious.

Potter also backed Marc Cucurella after a difficult start to life at Chelsea. The left-back, a £62.5m summer signing from Brighton, struggled against Manchester United last weekend and has been substituted early in each of his last three appearances.

“He’s had a couple of issues, in terms of a bit of illness,” Potter said.

“He’s been on antibiotics but he’s a lot lot better. The reason for Manchester United was purely tactical from a need to get an extra body in midfield. He was the one that came out probably because of all the other things that have been happening for him. He was a little bit unlucky there. He’s ready to fight for the team, he’s ready to play. He’s a resilient character, a really good person. He’ll show his quality.”

Potter warned Chelsea not to take Salzburg lightly. “Two wins against Milan have helped the situation for us,” he said. “We’re not celebrating, we need more points. We’re expecting a really tough game.”

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Marta Lopez

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