London: Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek's hopes of getting regular playing time in the Premier League are hindered by the club's wealth of talent in his position, says manager Maurizio Sarri.
Sarri was speaking after 22-year-old Loftus-Cheek advertised his talents in the best possible manner by scoring a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Belarus outfit BATE Borisov in their Europa League group clash late Thursday.
Loftus-Cheek – who is the first Chelsea player to score a hat-trick in European competition since club icon Didier Drogba 12 years ago – has played just 33 minutes of Premier League football this term despite enjoying an impressive World Cup with England.
He started England's recent friendly with Switzerland in September, but since then he has found club-mate Ross Barkley gaining preference both at Chelsea and in the England set-up as national manager Gareth Southgate is keen to select players who are playing regularly.
Chelsea fans may have been chanting 'He is one of our own' during the Europa League match but that is unlikely to sway Sarri.
"We have four midfielders and three of them have the same characteristics," Sarri told BT Sport.
'I fear for the lad'
"They are offensive midfielders, only one has other characteristics – [N'Golo] Kante is a defensive midfielder.
"So it is very difficult to put in the starting XI two midfielders with the same characteristics.
"We have a tactical problem with the midfielders."
As well as Kante, Sarri has often used summer signings Jorginho – who he knows well as the Italy international played for him at Napoli – and Mateo Kovacic in midfield, with Barkley also in the mix.
Loftus-Cheek is not a unique example in Chelsea's history under Russian owner Roman Abramovich of a talented English player emerging from the club's Academy and failing to get regular first team game time.
But his case is striking. Since he graduated from the Academy in 2014 he has been selected a paltry 35 times in all competitions by a succession of managers – Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and now Sarri.
Former England manager Glenn Hoddle believes Loftus-Cheek – who had prior to the new campaign reportedly declined a loan move to Bundesliga side Schalke 04 to fight for a starting place at Chelsea – should seek a move away in order to develop.
"Some of the stuff Ruben has done tonight is delightful," said Hoddle, who is now a respected TV pundit.
"I just fear for the lad… he's got to move if he wants to progress.
"He's an England talent and we want to see him playing.
"I want to see if he can take these sort of performances on to the pitch against the bigger sides.
"Nobody knows if he can play three games in a row — even he doesn't know."
Loftus-Cheek for his part said he would be putting the match-ball in a glass display case – and hoping his sheer bloody-mindedness in staying put will finally pay off.
Updated Date: Oct 26, 2018 16:32:37 IST