With Easter out of the way, the final push to the finish line in the 2012-13 season has begun in earnest, and many of Chelsea’s young loanees have high stakes to play for in the final weeks of the campaign.
Many of them are fighting for high rewards – titles, promotions or European qualification – but at the bottom of League One in England, Sam Walker and Billy Clifford are playing their part in trying to keep Colchester United safe from relegation.
The duo have been integral to their improved form in 2013 and were in fine form on Saturday as a 2-1 win at home to Leyton Orient put six points between them and the drop zone with just four games left to play.
Walker was the hero and Man of the Match, saving a second-half penalty which secured maximum reward for the U’s. After a stop-start time of it in the last couple of years, yo-yoing between England’s third and fourth tiers, he finally appears to be making an upward progression and coming into his own.
Clifford, meanwhile, has offered a mature and composed approach in the centre of midfield for a young team, which is testament to his ability despite being of tender age himself. He is entrusted with setting the tempo for the team and providing excellent set piece delivery, and has been just as important as Walker in their relegation dogfight.
Further up the table, Patrick Bamford has become a regular contributor for Milton Keynes Dons but after scoring twice in as many games, he drew a blank in a frustrating goalless draw at home to Crawley Town. It wasn’t for the want of trying though, as the hosts had three goals ruled out, with Bamford involved in much of their best attacking play.
One step up in The Championship, Todd Kane and Blackburn too find themselves fighting against the drop, but whilst Colchester, Walker and Clifford are on the rise, Rovers are free-falling in a season of crisis.
Kane was in superb form himself at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, making a number of impressive contributions at both ends of the pitch, but Blackburn lost 3-2 and find themselves in the bottom three.
At the top, Nathaniel Chalobah and Watford held runaway leaders Cardiff City to a goalless draw at Vicarage Road in a game which offered little by way of highlights. Both teams may be playing top flight football next season, and Chalobah, as we now know, is certainly ready for the challenge.
Slotted in between the two in the Championship standings are Hull City, who beat Josh McEachran’s Middlesbrough 1-0 on Saturday. It was the latest in a terrible run of results for Boro, and their slide from grace has made it harder for the England Under-21 international to really stand out. However, his loan spell has generally been successful as he has had plenty of playing time in a competitive league and has been able to develop physically and mentally over the grind of a long campaign.
Sam Hutchinson was on the bench for Nottingham Forest at home to Blackpool and stayed therefor the duration of the game. Having suffered a minor groin injury against Brighton, the requisite recovery periods are certainly being observed when it comes to Sam and his fitness.
Unfortunately, George Saville has not been able to work his way into the Millwall squad and was once again not involved in any capacity.
In the top flight, Romelu Lukaku was curiously only named as a substitute for West Brom at home to Arsenal, and whilst he made his usual bustling impact as a second-half substitute, the Baggies lost 2-1 and may rue not having started their top goalscorer.
Overseas, it was another successful weekend for Vitesse as they beat NAC Breda 3-0 to continue their title challenge. Patrick van Aanholt remained absent with a shoulder injury but Gael Kakuta and Tomas Kalas both started, and it was the Frenchman Kakuta who shone with a sparking 81-minute display.
He laid on one of Wilfried Bony’s two goals whilst coming desperately close to scoring one himself; beating three men before rattling the woodwork with a fine effort.
Kenneth Omeruo and ADO Den Haag went down 1-0 away to FC Utrecht on Sunday, but may still harbour outside hopes of finishing in a position where they would play off for a European berth.
Talking of playoffs, the Championship group is well underway in Belgium and after two rounds Thorgan Hazard and Zulte Waregem trail Anderlecht by just one point at the top of the standings. They had the chance to go top on Sunday but only managed a 1-1 draw away to Genk.
Hazard played 90 minutes without having a direct bearing on anything, but also spoke this week of the likelihood of him remaining with Essevee next season depending on which level of European competition they end up qualifying for (if any at all).
In Germany, it was a forgettable weekend for both Kevin De Bruyne and Jeffrey Bruma, with home defeats for Werder Bremen (0-2 to Schalke) and Hamburg (0-1 to Freiburg) respectively. De Bruyne at least played another 90 minutes, whilst Bruma was on the bench with Michael Mancienne fit to return to a defence which shipped nine goals at Bayern Munich the weekend before.
In Spain, Lucas Piazon saw half an hour from the bench in Málaga’s 4-2 defeat to Real Sociedad in a match which may have implications on the Champions League qualifiers from La Liga. The Brazilian forward was not considered for selection in their home draw against Borussia Dortmund in the last eight of this year’s European Cup, however.
Thibaut Courtois kept his sixteenth club clean sheet of the season for Atlético Madrid away to Granada in a rather forgettable goalless draw.
Ulises Dávila was a late substitute for Sabadell in their goal-filled clash with Sporting Gijon but arrived on the field too late to make a notable impact, whilst Jhon Pírez played no part against for Leganés, news which , based on his career to date, suggests he’s probably injured again.
It was a big weekend for Matej Delac, as Inter Zapresic took on the might of Hajduk Split and came away with a credible 1-1 draw. Inter’s defence has been considerably improved by the presence of the young stopper and he will hope to continue a good run of form next week away to Dinamo Zagreb.
Wallace was not involved for Fluminense in a 2-0 win over Resende, whilst Cristian Cuevas remains away with Chile in international competition and has not featured for O’Higgins.