Ruben Loftus-Cheek has moved to reassure Chelsea fans Maurizio Sarri was right to substitute him in the Europa League semi-final scrap with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Loftus-Cheek cut a frustrated figure when replaced late in the second half of Thursday’s dramatic second leg, which Chelsea eventually won 4-3 on penalties to set up an all-English final against Arsenal.
Supporters rounded on boss Sarri, loudly booing his decision to remove goalscorer Loftus-Cheek, but the 23-year-old has confirmed he had cramp and had asked to come off.
“The fans obviously didn’t like it but I tried to lift them, because we didn’t need that atmosphere here, but it’s all for a good reason,” said Loftus-Cheek.
“I’ve played a lot in these last few weeks, more than I’ve done in my career.
“So I think I have to pay attention to my body and take care of myself, because I don’t want another injury.
“When I feel that I’m a liability to the team, because I was getting cramp in my hamstrings just before I came off, and the minute I feel if I sprint it could go or I won’t be able to spring as fast as I can, then it’s just the right decision to put some fresh legs on.”
— Ruben Loftus-Cheek (@rubey_lcheek) May 9, 2019
Loftus-Cheek finally feels able to overcome long-term back spasms that have put a handbrake on his development so far.
The 10-cap England midfielder fired his 10th goal of the campaign amid another pulsating performance, only for Chelsea to let that advantage slip with Luka Jovic levelling.
Eden Hazard struck the decisive penalty in the shoot-out, with Kepa Arrizabalaga pulling off two fine saves, much to the relief of captain Cesar Azpilicueta who missed his spot-kick.
Loftus-Cheek’s replacement Ross Barkley slotted his penalty kick too, leaving the in-form Chelsea man happy with how everything worked out.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 9, 2019
“Gianfranco (Zola) asked me five minutes before and I said I’m good, I’m good,” said Loftus-Cheek.
“But then I felt the cramp on a sprint and then thought ‘let’s not risk it’.
“Obviously Ross (Barkley) came on and put that penalty away, it all matters.”
Academy graduate Loftus-Cheek admitted the continued thrill of having the unwavering support of Chelsea’s fans, before setting his sights on even higher goal returns in the future.
“I really appreciate the reception I get from the fans; I’ve been here since eight years old so it’s a dream for me to play in front of these fans at Stamford Bridge, so I’m forever thankful,” said Loftus-Cheek.
“It’s something that will take my game to the next level, scoring goals.
“I believe I’m capable of it, so it’s just about getting in the right positions and that will come with time and experience.
“Technique will improve that as well. But I’ll look to keep on getting more goals.”