Ruben Loftus-Cheek has admitted that he "felt a yard off" the pace during Chelsea's win over Aston Villa on Sunday, but has vowed to regain his mental and physical "sharpness" after returning from injury.
Loftus-Cheek was handed his first start of the season as Chelsea earned a 2-1 victory at Villa Park in their first game back following the coronavirus-enforced break.
The 24-year-old had to watch on from the sidelines for the Blues' previous 29 fixtures due to an Achilles injury, which has kept him out of action since May 2019.
The England international had just begun to establish himself as a vital member of the squad before his progress was halted, but he is now on the comeback trail under the stewardship of Frank Lampard.
Loftus-Cheek played 55 minutes on the right-hand side of midfield against Villa before being substituted for Christian Pulisic, and struggled to affect the game in any meaningful way.
However, the talented playmaker says he was "just grateful to be back", and that his "smell for the game" will soon be rediscovered if he continues to take in regular minutes.
"Honestly it felt amazing after so long without playing, 13 months since my last competitive game," Loftus-Cheek told Chelsea's official website. "To get on the pitch, even though there were no fans and it felt slightly different, it was amazing to feel that competitive spirit again.
"I’m just being grateful to be playing. I started against Aston Villa and I didn’t play as well as I wanted to play, but I just came off the pitch thinking I can’t be angry about that. I’ve just been out for 13 months.
"I did feel a yard off at times, physically and mentally, the feel of the game, how you would when you’re sharp and playing every week. I couldn’t say I felt like that. It’s hard to explain. You don’t have that smell for the game but it will come back the more I play.
"I wasn’t too hard on myself, I’m just happy to play and grateful to be back on the pitch. Slowly as I play more that sharpness will get better, and physically I will feel much better as well."
The Chelsea midfielder added on his desire to win back a spot in the middle of the park as he gets back up to speed: "I want to do as much as I can for the team.
"I played on the wing at the weekend, but I’ve played in midfield most of my career. Wherever I play I hope to bring what I can bring, my power and my strength, and try and get as many goals as possible.
"That’s what I did last season, getting in the box and trying to get goals, and using physicality in the middle of the park. I can’t wait to feel that power back and get my strength and speed to where it was last season."
Lampard's men are now looking ahead to a crunch showdown against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, and Loftus-Cheek is hopeful the Blues can still make home advantage count in the continued absence of supporters.
"The mood in the dressing room is really good, really bubbly and excited for it, especially coming off the back of a win," he said. "We’re obviously coming up against a really good team, and they can pose a threat, but we can pose a threat as well. We’ve got a really good team.
"They’re coming to our ground and even though our fans aren’t there, we are used to being at Stamford Bridge. Hopefully, that has an impact. As a team, we are looking to win, as always, and we’re really excited."