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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Ruben Loftus-Cheek gives Maurizio Sarri food for thought ahead of Chelsea's trip to Burnley

Midfielder scored a hat-trick in his last outing but faces a continued fight for a regular place in Maurizio Sarri's team

Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored all three goals in Chelsea's 3-1 Europa League win over Bate Borisov. Reuters
Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored all three goals in Chelsea's 3-1 Europa League win over Bate Borisov. Reuters

England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek is expected to resume his place among the substitutes for Chelsea's Premier League match against Burnley on Sunday, despite scoring his first hat-trick in his last outing.

Loftus-Cheek, 22, scored all three goals in Chelsea's 3-1 win over Bate Borisov in the Europa League on Thursday, and while manager Maurizio Sarri insists he his happy with the midfielder's progress, the Italian is set to field the same midfield combination that has helped the club to an unbeaten start to the league season.

Italian playmaker Jorginho and French World Cup winner N'Golo Kante have been mainstays in Sarri's 4-3-3 formation, with the other midfield berth shared by England international Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic, the Croatian on loan from Real Madrid.

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Ever since Sarri arrived at Chelsea in July, he has emphasised the need for his players to understand the defensive requirements of his possession-based game. The Italian said this would take time, although he clearly believes some members of his squad are adapting quicker than others.

A foot injury has not helped Loftus-Cheek, who has come through the ranks at Chelsea after joining the club at the age of eight.

As a home-grown player, Loftus-Cheek has the backing of the supporters while further afield, his situation this season has contributed to the debate about the limited opportunities available to young English players at leading clubs in the Premier League.

But having committed himself to trying to break through at Chelsea, Loftus-Cheek knows he faces a battle to win Sarri over.

"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."

Sarri declared himself satisfied with Loftus-Cheek's early progress as he assessed the player's first professional hat-trick, that came on the back of a display built on the powerful running he showed for Palace and England last season. But he also delivered a clear message that the player must get better.

Loftus-Cheek's willingness to listen, learn and put in the hard yards on the training ground will determine whether he remains a member of Sarri's back-up group of players, restricted to occasional starts in the Europa League and domestic cup competitions or a key component in a side challenging for the Premier League title.