BY PAUL LAGAN
Hat-trick hero Ruben Loftus-Cheek remembers the last time he netted three goals in a Blues’ shirt – he was just 13 years old.
Nine years on and the boy from Lewisham, 22, can be well pleased with his progress which has seen him become a full England international and firm Stamford Bridge favourite.
Convincing Chelsea head coaches who recognizes his undoubted ability is the greatest challenge he will face at SW6 – but he’s up for it. Constant communication to current incumbent Maurizio Sarri is helping – and that was evident on Wednesday night when Loftus-Cheek and Sarri appeared to be in constant conversation.
It’s something that the Loftus-Cheek is happy with. “I have never doubted my ability,” he said.
“It’s just hard sometimes to perform at your best when you are not playing regularly.
“So it is important to train well, keep your good habits – eat well and sleep well – so that when games like this come along you can be as close to your best physical shape as possible.”
So how demanding is Sarri? “He is asking me to improve defensively and positionally,” he said.
“We are working on it every day in training and he is very demanding with the team. “He is so demanding on shape, but also wants you to play freely as well, which is why we can play such free-flowing football – it is really good work.
“For a manager who has been in the game for a long time, it would be daft for me not to take in what he is telling me.
“He is a top manager. For me to learn from him is great for my development. I will keep on doing that. I will keep on listening and learning whenever I’m on the pitch or in training.
“As a player-manager relationship it works – we both have respect for each other. When you play it is different from training, you get to see the game, feel the game and it is easier to learn in that sense.
“You can see it more clearly on the pitch. It is both really – training and games where you get the feel for tactics and the smell of the game.”
His three goals that sunk BATE Borisov in the Europa League group match was his first for the Blues since April 2016 against Aston Villa. Had he ever scored a hat-trick before?
“I think it was in the Under-13s,” he said. “It might have been against Charlton. I remember scoring a hat-trick against them when I was young.
“But this was different. A European night under the lights, it is hard to describe the feeling. It’s a dream. It is hard to sleep after every night game anyway, whether you win, lose or draw. You have so much adrenaline, it is difficult to sleep. But for sure it will be hard this time.
“If I don’t I try to put on a film, so I can switch off.”
Was it the best feeling he’s ever had in a blue shirt – better than his debut?
Loftus-Cheek is clear – it wasn’t. “No, I think my debut was more special,” he said. “Just because you dream of that as a kid.
“The first time I stepped on the pitch for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was in the Champions League and that was a special night – but this is close.”
Loftus-Cheek is not resting on his laurels. “There is still a long way to go,” he said.
“I want to keep being ambitious, keep improving and see how far I can go.
“It was a nice feeling to hear the fans chant my name. The Chelsea fans have always supported me and I am very grateful for that. I thank them.”
Sarri gave youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi, 17, a run out and Loftus-Cheek is happy to pass on his good-wishes and advice to the wide player. “He is a very talented player,” he said.
“But he has to keep working hard in training because it’s not easy once you get here to sustain it and get even higher. It is tough mentally. “All the players in the team will keep pushing him, [Ethan] Ampadu as well. We have some top talent and we will keep pushing them.”
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