Chelsea’s many loanees returned to form with a bang this weekend as it rained goals, assists and red cards across the continent. With so much to talk about, let’s dive straight in.
We returned from a brief international interlude to a televised Friday night clash between two Championship promotion hopefuls as Nathaniel Chalobah and Watford took on Crystal Palace. It was a thoroughly entertaining match which was headlined for Chelsea fans by Chalobah’s third goal of the season.
With less than fifteen minutes on the clock the Hornets were two goals to the good and it was the England Under-21 international who gave them the daylight of a second strike. He stuck with the play after a corner was cleared and showed patience and timing to arrive on cue to head Marco Cassetti’s volley home at the far post.
It was part of an impressive all round game from a player who continues to make great strides in England’s second tier. He was galloping around the midfield all evening, joining attacks and getting back to tidy up just as often. He did a solid job marking the experienced Stephen Dobbie and overcame a slight groin problem to sparkle as he does so often.
Also on the scoresheet this week was Kevin De Bruyne, who returned to form in timely fashion for Belgium in midweek and carried that over into Werder Bremen’s trip to Stuttgart. In his best game for a few months the midfield playmaker hit the post, laid on a goal and sealed the victory in stoppage time with a well-taken virtuoso effort on the break.
A little later on Saturday and Thorgan Hazard was the third youngster to find the back of the net, and his stunning effort for Zulte Waregem away to Lokeren was the goal of the weekend.
Unfortunately, Zulte were only able to take a point from the fixture, but they remain second in the table and are enjoying a superb season.
There were no goals in the Eredivisie but there were impressive performances from Patrick van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta as Vitesse twice came from behind to earn a draw at home to PSV Eindhoven. Fred Rutten’s men overcame some remarkably ineffective officiating to claim a deserved point, with Van Aanholt laying on the 89th minute goal for Wilfried Bony.
The left-back had a good game but received a lot of help in a defensive capacity from Kakuta, who is quickly throwing off the reputation of a talented player who doesn’t like to work hard. He was absolutely everywhere from first to last at the Gelredome and whilst his attacking game never quite got going (PSV are stout in defence), he was a very valuable part of Fred Rutten’s side.
Tomas Kalas was dropped to the bench after some indifferent recent form but came on for the last twenty minutes, and the ease with which PSV exposed the hosts at right-back suggests he will likely be restored to the team sooner rather than later.
Kenneth Omeruo remained absent for ADO Den Haag due to his successful campaign with Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations, whilst Amin Affane returned to the Roda JC matchday squad but sat on the bench throughout their credible 1-1 draw away to Ajax.
Unfortunately, there was one sour note on an otherwise very successful weekend, and it came in the form of a red card for Jeffrey Bruma for Hamburg away to Dortmund. He received his marching orders for a professional foul on Marco Reus, but HSV still ran away 4-1 winners in one of the more unlikely results of the season.
Recounting the action elsewhere, and with Romelu Lukaku’s West Bromwich Albion not in action until Monday night (when this section will be updated with his performance), the focus in England was on the Championship again. Unfortunately, there was nothing to speak of, for neither Todd Kane nor Josh McEachran played, and Sam Hutchinson remains a long-term casualty.
Kane will return to Chelsea this week after Blackburn got right-backs Adam Henley and Bradley Orr back to fitness, meaning they no longer required the services of the Blues’ Under-21 captain. McEachran, meanwhile, was relegated to the bench by Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray as he sought the club’s first points of 2013, but a 3-2 defeat to Barnsley sees them continue their tumble down the table.
Mowbray told the local Middlesbrough press this week that he intends to meter out McEachran’s appearances for the rest of the season in a bid to get more effective performances from him. He has gone somewhat off the boil in the last couple of months as the toll of a first ever full professional campaign began to take effect, and hopefully by picking and choosing his games he’ll be able to regain a bit of form and confidence in the final 18 or so games.
There was better news in League One where Billy Clifford and Sam Walker continue to be key parts of Colchester’s rapid upturn in form. After nine straight defeats the Essex club have now taken nine points from their last twelve and have escaped the relegation zone. Walker was fantastic on Saturday in the 1-0 win over Preston, making two outstanding saves, whilst Clifford has been ever-present in midfield and looks set to extend his stay this week through to the end of the season.
Patrick Bamford is still injured and unavailable for Milton Keynes Dons.
In Spain, Thibaut Courtois and Atlético suffered a surprise defeat away to Rayo Vallecano in something of a Madrid derby. Diego Simeone’s side found themselves two behind at the break and couldn’t turn the game around in the second half.
Lucas Piazon saw more playing time than at any other point in his brief Málaga career with a twenty minute cameo away to Levante, but did little of note as the team from the Costa del Sol won 2-1.
In the second division, Uli Dávila and Sabadell were thumped 5-1 away to Almeria on Friday night in a match the Mexican and his team-mates will quickly want to forget.
In Segunda B, Jhon Pírez started his second straight game for Leganés as they took on former top flight outfit Tenerife and he played well again, proving a nuisance in attack despite the 2-1 defeat. It’s a very positive sign for him that he’s been able to return to fitness and start playing again, and hopefully it continues for a while to come.
In Croatia, Matej Delac and Inter Zapresic will return to league fixtures this week after a long winter break, and he projects to be their starting goalkeeper based on their friendlies over the last month. He started against Spartak Malchik, Gornik Zabrze, Ruch Chorzow and Nassaf Qarsi in their training camp in Turkey and will be playing regular football for the first time since leaving nearly three years ago.
Finally, it’s time to add another new face to the loan report in the form of Brazilian full-back Wallace. The Fluminense youngster signed for Chelsea late in 2012 and will be making the move in the summer (although quite where he’ll be playing is another matter) but remains a regular for Flu in the meantime. He didn’t play in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Vasco though.