As Ruben Loftus-Cheek offered a timely reminder of his potential, one glaring statistic stood out. This talented young footballer has still played more minutes for England this season than he has for Chelsea in the Premier League.
If any individual’s situation surmises the peculiar and exasperating life of a young English hope at a leading Premier League club, it is surely the fate of Loftus-Cheek.
His lot for England is not much shout about this season, either. Just the 61 minutes, in the least important game of the campaign, the friendly win over Switzerland. In the Premier League, it is almost half that amount, with a combined 33 minutes against modest opponents in Bournemouth and Huddersfield.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga 6; Zappacosta 7, Christensen 6, Cahill 6, Emerson 6, Loftus-Cheek 8, Fabregas 7.5, Kovacic 6 (Kante 77); Willian 7 (Moses 57, 6), Giroud 6, Pedro 6.5 (Hudson-Odoi 60, 6).
Subs not used: Caballero, Rudiger, Barkley, Morata.
Goals: Loftus-Cheek 2, 8, 54
Manager: Maurizio Sarri 7
BATE BORISOV (4-3-3): Scherbitski 6; Rios 6, Filipovic 5, Filipenko 5, Volodko 5.5; Baga 5 (Yablonski 76), Dragun 5.5, Hleb 6 (Ivanic 59, 6); Skavysh 6, Signevich 5.5 (Tuominen 71, 5.5), Stasevich 6.
Subs not used: Berezkin, Volkov, Chickan, Moukam.
Goals: Rios 80
Manager: Alyaksey Baha 5
Referee: Paolo Mazzoleni (Italy) 6.
On both occasions, Chelsea were winning and in control. So he is not perceived by Maurizio Sarri as a difference-maker and his outings have almost worn the feel of an apologetic offering by the Italian to save him the next bout of hassle in a press conference.
Most remarkably, 922 days and two managers have now passed since Loftus-Cheek last started a Premier League match for Chelsea.
A starting place here, therefore, as meek and modest as Bate Borisov may be, represented dizzy heights for Loftus-Cheek in a Chelsea shirt.
As far as auditions go, it was a blistering one. By scoring a hat-trick, he joined club legends Didier Drogba, Gianluca Vialli, Tommy Baldwin, Peter Osgood and Terry Venables as only the sixth player to score a hat-trick in European competition for Chelsea. So if he had a point to prove, it was emphatically made.
His first contribution was most memorable for passing a ball out of play and Sarri shaking his head.
Thankfully matters improved quickly and by the hour mark, Chelsea supporters were singing ‘Loftus-Cheek, he’s one of our own’ and for all the club’s relentless success under Roman Abramovich, homegrown talent is the one ingredient they have been missing.