Ruben Loftus-Cheek: England star puts in quality performance to help defeat Panama | Football | Sport


No less a cast list of Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard, Glenn Hoddle, Terry Butcher and Roy Hodgson have paid their tributes to the Chelsea youngster’s quality and potential.

Butcher had likened him to Gazza, no less, for his ability to roll away from his marker. Hoddle said there was something of Ballack in him for his authority on the ball.

Sometimes a manager’s hand is forced by injuries. Bobby Robson changed his personnel and formation in both the 1986 and 1990 World Cups and it paid off.

In Mexico, Bryan Robson’s shoulder injury and Ray Wilkins’ dismissal forced him to re-shape his side after a game and a half with Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid and Steve Hodge all brought into the equation. And a rejuvenated team reached the quarter-finals and might have gone further but for Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal.

Four years later, another Robson injury and a switch to a back three, brought David Platt into the team and his goals against Belgium and Cameroon helped England reach the semi-finals.

This time Dele Alli’s unfortunate thigh strain didn’t overly concern Gareth Southgate because he is huge fan of Loftus-Cheek.

The youngster had been on his radar for a long time and when he got the chance to work with him at the Toulon under 21 tournament last summer and he was seriously impressed.

Loftus Cheek was named man of the tournament after three goals in four games.

All he needed on his return was regular first team football and he was given that chance with a loan spell at Crystal Palace where Hodgson helped develop him and it took only eight games for Southgate to call him up to his senior team.

A man of the match performance on his debut against Germany at Wembley underlined he is a player who was not fazed by the big occasion and with exciting potential for this new-look England. And in the heat of Nizhny Novgorod he was a seamless fit as Southgate’s ran amok.

Of course, we have to keep things into perspective. Panama are ranked 55th in the world and are a long way short of the level of the opponents England will have to beat if they are to win the World Cup.

If they had spent less time trying to foul England and then arguing with the Egpytian referee they may have stood more chance of keeping the score down.

But Loftus-Cheek has given Southgate plenty of food for thought. He certainly did not enough to merit staying in the side against Belgium on Thursday that will be the time to make a proper assessment.

The Londoner is a big unit, 6ft 3ins and 14st, but he has great technique for such stature.

His pace and power certainly make different from many modern day midfield players. His versatility makes him valuable for Southgate.

His creativity means he is usually used as an advanced midfielder but he is also able to play in a deeper role as a link man. As Lampard, who studied him as a kid as he came through at Chelsea, said having him on the pitch “does not compromise the team in attack or defence.”

For the most part he played it simple on the right side of midfield where he posted a near 100 per cent completion rate yesterday.

He is a Rolls Royce player but when he puts his foot down his pace and power leaves opponents in his slip stream.

It was a disciplined performance. He resisted the temptation to stray from his right channel, he was happy to get his foot in, and was unlucky to pick up a harsh caution in the first half.

There was an early moment of class when he raced onto Jordan Henderson’s pass and twisted in trademark fashion past a defender before setting up a chance of Jesse Lingard. There another flash of skill and injection of pace when he linked with Raheem Sterling.

And just to cap an upbeat first competitive appearance for his country, Loftus-Cheek can also claim an assist for Kane’s hat-trick goal when he cut in from the right and his first shot of the game flicked off the skipper’s heel and into the net.

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