Ruben Loftus-Cheek believes the benefits of his loan spell at Crystal Palace are now paying off for Chelsea.
The 22-year-old England midfielder spent last term on loan at Selhurst Park and is now developing into an integral member of Maurizio Sarri’s Blues squad.
“After a season at Palace I felt I really matured, I got to see what the Premier League was like playing week-in, week out,” Loftus-Cheek told Chelsea TV.
“At Palace we had to fight a lot. I really think I learned the way to fight and grind out games.
“After the World Cup I was ready to come back and fight for a place at Chelsea.
“The start of the season was difficult but I’m getting chances now and I’m just looking to do the best I can.”
Loftus-Cheek played in a more advanced role in Chelsea’s 1-0 Carabao Cup quarter-final win over Bournemouth on Wednesday night and thrived.
But after the introduction of Pedro and Eden Hazard, who scored the decisive goal six minutes from time, Loftus-Cheek dropped back into his more customary midfield position.
That versatility attracted praise from Chelsea assistant boss Gianfranco Zola.
Zola said: “I was impressed with him. He’s done very well as one of the strikers, wide players, but also he showed a lot of application and sacrifice when he played as a midfielder.
“He’s gone a long way since the beginning of the season and improved in many ways. He’s a good boy and works very hard on his game.”
Loftus-Cheek’s preference is to play in midfield.
He said: “I see myself as a midfielder. That’s where I want to be as I take my career forward. Right now I’m happy to play anywhere, right wing, left wing. I covered a lot of positions (against Bournemouth).
“I’m happy to do it wherever. And I’ll give it my best. I think I’m effective if it’s coming from deep or getting it higher up and making combinations and getting shots off.”
Chelsea will play Tottenham in next month’s semi-final. Premier League fixtures against Newcastle and Arsenal take place between the two legs, the second of which is at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea will be keen to make amends for the 3-1 league loss at Wembley last month.
Loftus-Cheek added: “Bring it on.”
The Blues denied Bournemouth a first League Cup semi-final appearance for a second successive year.
The Cherries have lost seven of their last eight games in all competitions – the win over Huddersfield on December 4 is the exception – after a fine start to the campaign.
Their attentions immediately switched to Saturday’s clash with Brighton after a strong performance at Chelsea.
Nathan Ake told AFCB TV: “We take the confidence into the next game, which is a really important one.
“It’s a massive game for us. We want to look up again in the table.
“I think how hard everyone worked (at Chelsea). We need to do that in every game. If you do that then there’s always a chance you’re going to win.”