The Belgians are good. Kevin De Bruyne scored for the second successive week for Werder Bremen in Germany whilst Romelu Lukaku helped keep up the momentum in a fine start to the season for Chelsea’s loanees with his second goal in West Bromwich Albion colours this weekend. It’s with the big striker that we start this week’s round-up.
Lukaku was named in the starting eleven for the first time by manager Steve Clarke and he repaid his manager’s faith in him with the decisive strike in a win which puts the Baggies into third place in the early Premier League table.
Having gone close once or twice earlier in the match, he collected himself later in the game to strike home cleanly from the edge of the box; the ball going through a cluster of legs before beating goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
De Bruyne, meanwhile, continues to grow into his role at Bremen and having netted away to Hannover last time out, he grabbed his first goal in front of his home fans against Stuttgart on Sunday. Fine approach play saw him link up with Nils Petersen before thrashing home at the near post. A video will be added to this report when available.
Both strikes came on his left foot, a supposedly weaker one but one which is nonetheless proving capable.
He has been playing alongside Aaron Hunt in a 4-1-4-1 formation, as part of the central pair in the more attacking bank of four, supporting lone striker Petersen. He has license to get forward but is equally relied upon to help out Zelkjo Junozovic in the anchoring position, and has done so very effectively so far.
De Bruyne was the sole Bundesliga loanee in action, with Jeffrey Bruma missing Hamburg’s win over Dortmund due to injury.
Elsewhere in England there was a double helping of action for many young Blues, although the landscape has shifted significantly for many and they face an interesting few days and weeks ahead.
Josh McEachran isn’t one of those though. He is amongst the first names on Tony Mowbray’s Middlesbrough team sheet and completed a pair of away matches in the north-west this week. Tuesday’s 4-1 defeat at Blackpool was forgettable but Boro bounced back well on Friday with a 2-1 win at Blackburn Rovers.
McEachran tends to line up on the right of a four-man midfield but has the license to roam around when his team attacks and he is already an influential figure in their play. His defensive work has been diligent and impressive, and he would have had his first goal in professional football were it not for a loose pass from Grant Leadbitter when he was well placed to finish.
Also impressing this week was Nathaniel Chalobah. The 17 year-old made his debut in professional football as a 70th minute substitute for Watford against Brighton and was absolutely fantastic in his cameo; bossing the game from the deep midfield role and striding forward to purposeful effect. He was fouled late on and had a good claim for a penalty fall on deaf ears.
On Saturday, Gianfranco Zola included him from the start at home to Bristol City and it was more of the same. Hornets fans are already excited about his potential and what he brings to the team, and having now worked his way into the side, it looks like it could take something significant to displace him. He’ll likely continue in midfield; a position which allows him to influence proceedings far more and take a fuller advantage of his abilities.
Sam Hutchinson’s week was brought to an abrupt half after 40 minutes of Nottingham Forest’s trip to Crystal Palace on Tuesday as the right-back limped off with a knee injury. Manager Sean O’Driscoll later revealed that he has minor problems in both knees, neither of which are directly related to his serious long-term issues, but as a precaution he spent the remainder of the week back at Cobham receiving treatment from Chelsea’s medical staff, and as such missed Forest’s 2-1 defeat at Leeds on Saturday.
Ben Gordon continues to be absent for Birmingham City, playing no part in either of their outings this week. Assistant Manager Terry McDermott explained a couple of weeks ago that Ben was struggling for match fitness after an injury curtailed his pre-season, and so his lack of match sharpness is the primary cause of his struggle to get into the team. They hope to be able to use him more regularly in the coming weeks.
In League One, Rohan Ince started his first match in Yeovil Town colours away to Leyton Orient on Tuesday but the Glovers continued their downward spiral after a good start and came home on the wrong end of a 4-1 hiding. The match was also a significant one for Archange Nkumu, who came off the bench in the closing minutes to make his professional debut.
Neither were involved in the 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield United on Saturday and with Nkumu’s loan deal set to end this coming week, manager Gary Johnson has decisions to make. A recent interview with the Somerset Western Gazzette suggests he may look to keep him around:
“He is only a young lad and because he wasn’t with us in pre-season he doesn’t really know our mentality, he doesn’t know when he is going to get stick off of us and when he isn’t and he doesn’t know when he is going to get praised,” he said.
“He looks a good learner, he doesn’t fall asleep in meetings or anything like that, he is very attentive and he is picking it up all the time. It is a big jump from youth football to the first division but it is handy to have him around because there is a chance to keep him for longer if he proves that he is good enough. It is a good opportunity for him and for us.
“We have got to see him when he gets his opportunity and he will get his opportunity. We are seeing him every day in training and he works hard and is a nice kid with a good character. He has done all that but now he has got to show us he can do it when he gets his opportunity in the first division.”
We have got to make a decision on some and Nkumu is one that we have got to make a decision on.
“We have seen a little bit of him but I know you can’t assess someone in ten minutes. To be fair, we put him out there when it was 4-1 just to give him a game as someone who hasn’t had a game for a while.”
Conor Clifford’s loan at Portsmouth ended on Monday and he is now back at Chelsea with Dermot Drummy’s Under-21 squad. Set to join him in the near future, surprisingly, is Sam Walker, who will leave Bristol Rovers this week after manager Mark McGhee decided to bring in Fulham’s Neil Etheridge.
Walker has hardly been the main reason for Rovers’ terrible start to the season, with shambolic defending present almost every week, but Etheridge’s debut clean sheet will have gone a long way to convincing McGhee that he has been vindicated in his decision. Walker’s last appearance will therefore likely have been the midweek 1-1 draw at Plymouth, and Chelsea will now have to find him a new home as soon as possible.
In the Netherlands, there was the usual flurry of action from the club’s five loanees in the Eredivisie. Amin Affane and Roda got things underway on Friday night, with the Swede in from the start and completing the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 defeat against Utrecht.
He played most of the match on the left wing and put in a few good crosses, particularly early in the game, but Roda’s lack of cutting edge ultimately cost them any chance of points. Affane is also their set-piece specialist already, taking charge of free-kicks and corners and providing a succession of dangerous deliveries.
Saturday saw Tomas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt take their turn, although they are still yet to be joined by Gael Kakuta, who is recovering from a recent injury. Kalas and Van Aanholt continued at full-back in Vitesse’s back four during a 1-1 draw with Heracles and they were both very much as we’ve come to expect from them; entirely dependable and influential at both ends of the field. That’s a particular improvement from Van Aanholt, who was the subject of much criticism last season but has thus far bounced back well this season and looked a better player.
There was a big test on Sunday too for Kenneth Omeruo as ADO Den Haag hosted Ajax and the Nigerian did well, although he will be disappointed with his role in Ryan Babel’s equaliser.
In Belgium, Thorgan Hazard continued in the Zulte Waregem starting eleven against Anderlecht and was, once again, their most influential figure. Despite the stature and quality of the opposition, he was keen to dribble and shoot and was a considerable attacking threat.
In Spain, Thibaut Courtois was afforded a midweek rest in the Europa League but returned on Sunday as Atlético beat Valladolid 2-1. However, it was a game to forget for him personally as his uncharacteristic error allowed Alberto Bueno to put his name on the scoresheet.
Courtois remains one of the world’s premier goalkeeping prospects but has undeniably been half a step shy of his best so far this season, with some concentration issues sneaking into his game. In the short-term, it can be attributed to merely a bump in the road, and hopefully he’ll put them firmly in the background as the season progresses.
Ulises Dávila was an unused substitute for Sabadell in their 3-0 win over Xerez but it appeared to be just a matter of rotation rather than a decision taken for poor performances. Jhon Pírez is yet to debut for Leganés due to injury.
Finally, in Portugal, Milan Lalkovic played the final ten minutes for Vitória in their 1-0 derby victory over Moreirense. Matej Delac was the backup goalkeeper on the bench.