Ruben Loftus-Cheek is now 21, the same age as Luke Shaw and older than Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli.

That trio are all around the England squad, whereas Loftus-Cheek isn’t even near the Chelsea starting lineup.

He has made just three substitute Premier League appearances this season, in home and away wins over Leicester and in a 2-1 victory over Stoke City. In total he has played just 24 minutes of league football under Antonio Conte.

It is a crucial point in his development and Loftus-Cheek needs to decide how to stop himself from stalling when he cannot afford to.

Does he stay at Chelsea?

There is no doubt Conte is willing to give players who would not previously have featured in his first team a chance, Victor Moses is testament to that.

Nathaniel Chalobah is also someone who is a regular in Chelsea’s match day squads.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte

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With 102 league minutes this season, the 22-year-old has featured more than Loftus-Cheek, although nowhere near a particularly large amount.

The problem is at the moment, squad rotation does not exist for Conte in the league.

He may switch Nemanja Matic for Cesc Fàbregas, or Pedro for Willian, but other than that there is no real desire to make too many changes.

And with Chelsea currently 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League, he’s more than justified in doing that.

The problem is, for the England Under-21 international, that is not good news.

No matter how much he impresses in training, he is not going to win when competing for a place with the most in-form players in the Premier League.

But he will have been disappointed to miss out against Wolves in the FA Cup in February.

While other fringe squad members, like Chalobah and Nathan Aké got their chance, Loftus-Cheek did not start and only came off the bench in the dying stages of the match. That will have hurt.

It will be even more disappointing, as after Óscar left in January, Conte suggested he would be giving the England under-21 international more time on the pitch.

The Chelsea boss said: “I trust all my players, Ruben is a player with great quality.

“Now I think after Oscar left he could have the right space to show me and the club his potential.”

But when he is competing with the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian – when he has featured for Chelsea this season it has been as part of the attacking three in the Blues’ 3-4-3 formation – it is hard to see him getting a game.

Is it time to leave Chelsea?

It would be harsh to write Loftus-Cheek off as the next Josh McEachran and let him leave Stamford Bridge permanently.

Both McEachran and Loftus-Cheek were linked with moves to Spanish super clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid as teenagers but chose to stay at Chelsea.

However, whereas McEachran left on loan at 18, Loftus-Cheek has stayed at Stamford Bridge under the close watch of the Chelsea staff.

It may now be time for him to go and get some more experience on the pitch.

The problem with McEachran was a lack of game time – in spells at Swansea, Watford and Wigan he made just 19 league appearances.

Brentford midfielder Josh McEachran battles with Chelsea man Ruben Loftus-Cheek

And if Loftus-Cheek stays at Chelsea next season he will likely continue down the same path.

He only has to look at Tammy Abraham, who has gone out on loan to Bristol City, scoring 22 goals, to see how beneficial the right loan move could be.

The 21-year-old is clearly in demand, he was linked to the likes of Newcastle and Brighton in January, and you would like to think he would have played at both of those clubs – he would definitely have got more time on the pitch in the league than his brief cameos against Leicester and Stoke.

There is no doubt there is the wrong loan move – as McEachran will tell you – but you can’t say Chelsea don’t know the loan market, with 37 players currently on loan.

A loan is the solution

While Loftus-Cheek doesn’t want to get lost away from Stamford Bridge, if he stays at Chelsea it is likely his career will stagnate.

There will be a number of high-profile Chelsea transfer targets in the summer and there is the fear that could push him further down the pecking order.

At 21, he is no longer the youngster who can benefit just from being around the first-team squad.

He’s done that since 2014 and has not made any real progress in terms of game time in the Premier League.

Loan moves can kick-start a young player’s career and force them into the first-team of their parent club – both Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge’s loan spells took them from fringe players to key men for their team – and that is what Loftus-Cheek will hope for.

Tammy Abraham of Bristol City

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Where he goes is crucial and he'll need assurances that he is going to be picked.

If that means dropping down into the Championship like Abraham then so be it.

It may feel like a step backwards but it would only be temporary and if you are playing well in the EFL, you may just find yourselves playing regularly for a top club – just look at Alli.

Loftus-Cheek has far too much potential for the Blues to let him go on a permanent deal at the moment but he needs to be given time to progress away from the club.

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