The Ruben Loftus-Cheek enigma of Thomas Tuchel

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Gallagher was an instant hit at Palace and one of the Premier League’s breakthrough players of the season. Loftus-Cheek also thrived at Selhurst Park when he joined in 2017, a season which propelled him into England’s 2018 World Cup squad, although since then he has struggled with injuries and inconsistencies, as well as an indifferent loan to Fulham, have blocked his development. “I don’t want to spoil his mood,” Tuchel said, “but I think the last thing Ruben needs right now is to think about the [2022] World Cup.”

“He needs to trust himself… he needs to perform three times in a row”

It was intriguing to hear the Chelsea manager work through the Loftus-Cheek conundrum – not a matter of too much youthful exuberance, he said, but perhaps too little. “The future is only there if you are up to it in the present,” Tuchel said. “He needs to trust himself. It’s not a matter of overconfidence. It’s the contrary. He needs to be confident in his body and his ability to do it [perform well] not once, twice but three, four, 10, 20 times in a row. And the next step is to do it three times in a row.

That kind of confidence doesn’t come, Tuchel said with a laugh, from being “tall, tall and handsome” – all of which Loftus-Cheek certainly has in his favour. “It comes from experience,” Tuchel said, and in that respect he felt that the Bernabeu experience would be helpful. “He lacked the stability to be loaned out, the key player, he lacks that story. It’s not like he was absolutely the key player when he was loaned out, but he showed his potential. It’s always potential. He’s a very nice and calm guy.”

“I don’t think he’s fully aware of what he can produce, what he can give physically. He is still in the situation where he accepts the limits too soon. He’s used to it and that’s where we are. We will continue to push.

Gallagher has certainly come a lot closer to that key man on loan status. His next hit will be critical. Loftus-Cheek returned to Chelsea from Palace in 2018 and played some big games that season for Maurizio Sarri. The injury he developed towards the end of it all wiped out the following season under Frank Lampard, and he wouldn’t have played at all in 2019-20 had it not been for the lockdown and the delayed end of the season.

Gallagher Palace loanee ‘needs something to fight for’

As for Gallagher, Tuchel said he could be a Chelsea player next season but stopped short of declaring it a certainty. “I’m not the only one to decide,” he said. “After talking with everyone, we see what Conor wants. We have to see what he wants, his goals, what to fight for.

“He needs something to fight for, to accept a role and to have a perspective of where you are and what you can achieve. Some, we have to be clear with him and he has to be clear with us. We’ll settle this. Its evolution is excellent and extraordinary. He is one of Crystal Palace’s key players and has taken a big step forward in its development. It was a pleasure to train in pre-season. He has so much positive energy…he can be a big help and influence.

The message was that the path forward for those with potential at a club that produces many quality young players can be complex, whether it’s the restrictions of a loan deal or the expectation of a career take-off at the age of 26. Gallagher did the hard part by establishing himself ready for the Premier League. As he potentially watches Loftus-Cheek on Sunday try to maintain his latest form, the youngster will know there are still a lot of steps to go.

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