Football Features

Chelsea “game-changer” Ruben Loftus-Cheek sinks Crystal Palace to set up FA Cup final v Liverpool

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:54, 17 April 2022

Ruben Loftus-Cheek continued his Chelsea renaissance with a match-winning turn as the Blues beat Crystal Palace 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-final.

After his excellent display midweek in the Santiago Bernabeu, Loftus-Cheek started the FA Cup semi-final on the bench but a first-half injury to Mateo Kovacic saw Loftus-Cheek called upon, and it proved to be a good sub from Thomas Tuchel.

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Loftus-Cheek came on and replicated the same driving energy he produced in the Bernabeu, carrying the ball forward and pushing beyond opponents, keeping the Palace defenders honest in their attempts to pull off an upset.

And of course Loftus-Cheek provided the game’s defining moment when he appeared to pounce on a hurried clearance and rocket the ball into the back of the net, opening the scoring and sending Chelsea on to a third consecutive FA Cup final where they will face Liverpool.

Initially the strike looked a worldie, but replays confirmed it took a significant deflection off Joachim Andersen, leaving Jack Butland in the Palace goal no chance of saving it.

But even the deflection can’t dim the brilliance of the goal because it was only the purity of Loftus-Cheek’s strike that allowed the deflection to merely redirect it instead of balloon it into the air.

It was Loftus-Cheek’s first Chelsea goal since 2019, since when he’s actually completed a full season of football for Crystal Palace, but it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as the Blues were really struggling to break Palace down.

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Speaking to ITV post-match, Ian Wright said of Loftus-Cheek: “he’s changed the game for Chelsea;” said the former Palace striker, “he got the ball and he was very progressive, tryin’ to make something happen where nothing was happening.” Meanwhile the Cobham graduate was predictably more humble about his effort, saying: “I just wanted to bring some energy.”

Given his excellence in the Santiago Bernabeu and his impact in winning the game here against Palace, Loftus-Cheek seems to finally be fulfilling the immense potential he’s shown for years. And he is all to aware of that.

“It’s been a tough road; injuries, going on loan to find my form again,” he said after the game, “but I always believed in myself and I always wanted to play for Chelsea, and I’ve played a lot this season, so I’m happy.”

“The reason why I’m still here is because of my mentality through all the injuries,” he continued. “I just keep going and I still believe in myself. I said it for many years, my time will come, and I’ll keep knuckling down and working for it.”

“He’s got a big part to play in the coming weeks for Chelsea because he’s been excellent in that deeper-role,” said Joe Cole.

“Yeah excellent. He was very very strong in the matches against Southampton and Real Madrid and would have deserved to start but honestly we would have expected a back four and a classic wing-back position, and wanted to have Azpi as a captain on the field.”

His manager Thomas Tuchel said that he wasn’t surprised by Loftus-Cheek’s display: “this is what he shows in training, but this is not enough. He needs to show it on the pitch,” indicating he is well aware of Loftus-Cheek not living up to his ability: “he [hid] his talent and potential for a long, long time in his career. He is capable of producing performances that everybody sees.”

“For him it’s step-by-step and that he continues to grow in his confidence.”

On the prospect of playing Liverpool for the 2022 FA Cup, after losing to the Reds in the 2022 EFL Cup final, Loftus-Cheek added: “We want to get them back, simple as that. It was a fantastic game in the League Cup final and could have gone either way […] we look forward to our revenge.



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