When Ruben Loftus-Cheek arrived at AC Milan from Chelsea as one of the first summer signings, there were some fans who were sceptical about the impact that he would have.
However, as La Gazzetta dello Sport writes, the situation after the first third of the season or so is this: when Loftus-Cheek plays, Pioli’s team are something else entirely, from all points of view.
Let’s talk about results: with the Englishman on the pitch as a starter, the Rossoneri average 2.2 points, while when he doesn’t play it drops to just one point per game.
Against PSG he dominated the midfield as he knows how, breaking the lines over and over again and starting counter-attacks with his dribble, but against Lecce he remained on the bench for 90 minutes.
Milan went ahead by two goals and then drew 2-2 against the Giallorossi, and this is where Loftus-Cheek comes in: Milan have suffered two draws and two defeats in the last 4. The Englishman only played in the defeat against Udinese but came off the bench.
Against Kylian Mbappè’s PSG he started and the team played at a different pace entirely, recording a memorable win that reopened the possibility of reaching the knockout stages in Europe.
RLC is a midfielder who has fight, likes to ‘govern’ the central area and progress the ball. In the only year in which he played continuously he reached ten goals under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, he was given a similar box-to-box role to the one Stefano Pioli has issued him with.
Gianfranco Zola, Sarri’s assistant at Stamford Bridge, summed up best what it means to have someone like this in the team: “He made us change gear, he has so much physicality that he allowed us to break up matches.”
Loftus-Cheek is essential. When he has started this season, Milan have lost only one game which is the 5-1 in the derby against Inter. This year he may have scored just one goal, away against Cagliari, but against PSG – the match that demonstrated his game the best – he was as good as he’s ever been.
That night in front of a sold-out San Siro he won 15 duels, recovered five balls and started a couple of counter-attacks where PSG players were just bouncing off him as they attempted to cut short his immense strides.
For more than a year now, the ghost of Frank Kessie has hovered over Milan’s midfield, having flown to Barcelona on a free transfer after winning the Scudetto in 2022. The Ivorian left a ‘physical’ void, but also a territorial one because of the distance he covered, the tackles he made and the duels he went into.
Sandro Tonali made up for his absence, but not completely. Pioli made Kessie play in all roles, from deeper-lying midfielder to attacking midfielder, and he repaid his trust.
Loftus-Cheek has what it takes to replace him, if he can put the physical problems behind him. Kessie, in five seasons with the Rossoneri, has missed just six games due to injury.