In a relegation-threatened season producing few moments worthy of a cheer, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was one of the few shining lights in the darkness of Selhurst Park.
Robust, dynamic and hard-working offer just a snippet of the many descriptors used in conjunction with Loftus-Cheek's performances under former England boss Roy Hodgson in south London.
Chelsea, by contrast, suffered in midfield last season and looked poor, despite N'Golo Kante's best efforts and it's left many Blues fans wondering why Loftus-Cheek isn't breaking into their own starting XI.
Prince of the Palace
Although he's found himself on the periphery at Stamford Bridge, Loftus-Cheek's quality has never come under scrutiny.
Despite outright dominance at youth level over the best part of the last decade, few stars seem to find a way to break into Chelsea's first team, though Loftus-Cheek seemed capable of breaking the mould after earning a debut against Sporting Lisbon in the 2014 Champions League.
Promotion to Jose Mourinho's senior squad in 2015 and a first goal against Scunthorpe the same year had only embellished Loftus-Cheek's standing with the Blues, though it was his loan to Crystal Palace that truly thrust him into the stardom.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek's 2017/18 Premier League season:
- 82.4% passing accuracy
- 73 successful take-ons
- 32 successful aerial duels
- 22 interceptions
- 26 key passes
- 3 assists
- 2 goals
Coming in-and-out of the team over the course of the season and seeing his role and position change on a weekly basis, Loftus-Cheek epitomised consistency and benefitted greatly from the tutelage of Roy Hodgson.
Better than Bakayoko
Although Tiemoue Bakayoko matched Loftus-Cheek's two Premier League goals, it's largely been a season to forget for Chelsea's £34 million summer signing and his frequently problematic ill-discipline seemingly left Kante to run the midfield on his own.
Bakayoko wasn't signed as an attacking midfielder and it's unsurprising, therefore, that he made only half the number of key passes (13) that Loftus-Cheek managed.
What's disappointing, though, is that the Frenchman committed four defensive errors, whereas the England midfielder made a grand total of zero, despite playing for a Palace side that kept seven fewer clean sheets.
Bakayoko made double as many defensive actions per game, but this is partially explained by Loftus-Cheek's regular position as either a winger or attacking midfielder.
The 22-year-old's contribution in terms of interceptions (22) and tackles (21), however, demonstrates a natural ability to play in a midfield double-pivot, in which he'd be expected to pick up defensive slack.
An England international
Having grown familiar with the Chelsea midfielder after overseeing much of his international development at youth level, it made sense that Gareth Southgate opted to bring Loftus-Cheek to Russia, knowing full well what he was capable of.
In England's opening fixture against Tunisia, Loftus-Cheek impressed in his ten-minute cameo - after coming on for an injured Dele Alli - and displayed great strength on the ball, speed and won the corner that led to Harry Kane's winner.
Against Panama, moreover, Loftus-Cheek impressed from the off and was one Kane deflection away from his first England goal - this did, however, result in an assist for the 22-year-old.
The wrong policy
Given the money now funnelled into the Premier League, the pressure this consequently places on top clubs to achieve short-term success and the lack of time afforded to build anything more sustainable, it's logical for Chelsea to invest money into their starting XI, rather than follow a model more orientated towards youth development.
In Loftus-Cheek, however, the Blues have missed a gem. They made a huge mistake and placing a little more faith in the midfielder could have saved them over £60 million in fees on Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Ross Barkley.
The Guardian have reported that Loftus-Cheek is not for sale this summer - a step in the right direction - though Chelsea are reportedly willing to loan him out again.
What more does he have to do to earn a spot in Chelsea's starting XI? Such a question is seemingly unanswerable.
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