GdS: Physicality, progression, coverage – Loftus-Cheek chasing away Kessie’s ghost

By Oliver Fisher -

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.

Tags AC Milan Ruben Loftus-Cheek


  1. RLC is a great player when fit, unfortunately that is what stalled his career at Chelsea.
    Frank the tank was always fit, never got tired and played every game.
    It’s just not the same

  2. Franck is the forgotten man of football. He really let his agent wreck his career. RLC is brilliant however. It still boggles my mind that some of our fans insult this man.

  3. Not even close to Kessie! Kessie was top 5 defensive mid in Europe when we had him. Sure his attacking abilities are not as good as RLC but he’s not really there for that. The ghost of Kessie is being the defender of midfield – the one that protects the defence before attacks get started – which we still severely lack. Its not the offense portion that he was known for although he did contribute in that phase too.
    Kessie had crazy work rate and stamina, defensively far far superior to RLC not to mention he’s always fit. RLC is here but we still lack in midfield, how does that even make sense. All those nice stats about the PSG game and can’t recover due to injury for the next game which we practically lost. Hold that L

  4. @Ted you seem to forget Franck only gave us 2 good seasons. Besides that insulting a guy like Loftus-Cheek who bullied our midfield single handedly, then came here and proceeded to bully PSG, his talent is undeniable. No use in insulting the guy who plays for us. Also that guy is a Champions League winner in recent years. An impact player is an impact player, I remember people crying about Ronaldinho’s fitness and not training back in 2008/09, well he’s still Ronaldinho and scored 12 and assisted 18 goals that season, and those figures haven’t been surpassed by anyone since. Impact is impact. That’s like calling Krunic better than Bennacer because Krunic stays fitter for longer.

  5. Remember even with losing Kessie, Hakan and Tonali, we still have our best and most gifted out of all of them, Bennacer is still here.

  6. @Bo no one is insulting RLC. Just stating facts. He played well against PSG and what happened after? Got injured as per his medical history. The article is a comparison between Kessie and RLC, of course fitness will come up seeing as Kessie was always fit. He’s missed 6 games out of 16 due to injury. And RLC never won a Champions League, he was on loan at the time when Chelsea won so he didn’t exactly contribute to that success.
    It’s ironic you mentioned Krunic and Bennacer because Krunic ended up benching Bennacer last season esp after the Napoli game if you may recall.

  7. Not a very good comparison IMO. Sur both men were physically very strong, and were able to bully the opposition’s midfield, but while RLC is offensively better, Kessie was defensively better. One does not replace the other and I think both could be together simultaneously (man what a midfield it could have been, to have BOTH Kessie and RLC !).
    We still didn’t replace Kessie, and we still need a DM for our team.

  8. @Bo, there are no insults here just straight facts. RLC would be a force to reckon with if it wasn’t for his fitness, one of best midfielders around and probably out of our reach. But that’s not the case. And what does winning CL has to do with it? This comparison with Kessie is total bollocks. Kessie was ever present for us and his absence is evident to this day. Our midfield lacks without a player of his characteristics. Even last season midfield was weak without him.

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