After a few weeks of a Romelu Lukaku dominated, winter break affected Loan Report, everybody was back in action this weekend across Europe, allowing someone else to take centre stage.
Gael Kakuta’s first goal of the season may have come in a heavy loss for Vitesse Arnhem, but it represents the sort of progress he’s been making in the Netherlands this season and is a sign of continued positivity for the young Frenchman.
He has become a regular starter after a problematic first few weeks at the club and has earned the trust of a hard taskmaster in manager Fred Rutten. His ascension to the first eleven had an initial immediate impact in the form of a flurry of assists, and he finally added a first league goal to his tally this weekend.
It was an impressive strike to boot; he picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and beat two men on the edge of the box before tucking home on his weaker right foot.
Fellow Chelsea loanees Tomas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt started as per usual in the Vitesse back four but had torrid returns to league action as Jozy Altidore ran wild. AZ exploited both of them in wide areas, catching them high up the pitch on the break and finishing with clinical efficiency. Both will certainly have better days.
They were the only Chelsea representatives in the Eredivisie in action this weekend, with Kenneth Omeruo away with Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations, and Amin Affane absent from Roda’s matchday squad. The Swede is expected to make his move to the club permanent during this transfer window.
Elsewhere, Lukaku may not have been the headline act this week but he continues to produce, picking up an assist in West Brom’s comeback draw at home to Aston Villa. Starting yet another game – and in the process becoming a key regular for Steve Clarke – he had a poor first half as Villa controlled the game but was hugely important to their second half response, which earned them a point.
He displayed all the hallmarks of a dominant target man forward as he set up Chris Brunt for the first goal of the evening; collecting the ball from a cross, shielding it from the defence and laying it off for the Northern Irish international to finish.
In The Championship, Josh McEachran started for Middlesbrough away to Leicester City on Friday night and did so in something of a new role. He lined up as Boro’s most advanced player, almost a ‘false nine’, but saw too little of the ball to have a notable impact. He did create one fantastic chance for Emmanuel Ledesma in the second half which was spurned, and was then substituted twenty minutes from time.
Nathaniel Chalobah was also taken off midway through the second half for Watford as they cruised to a 4-0 win over Huddersfield but his replacement was simply an opportunity to rest him as the Hornets cruised to a very impressive victory.
Todd Kane was named as Blackburn Rovers’ man of the man in their home draw against Charlton Athletic. Earning another start at right-back, the 19 year-old displayed all of his trademark mental traits in a hard-fought battle in less than favourable conditions. His no-nonsense, 100% effort approach has already endeared him to the home faithful, and he could conceivably stick there until the end of the season.
Sam Hutchinson remains sidelined for Nottingham Forest, whilst Billy Clifford and Sam Walker were held out of action for Colchester United this weekend due to snow in Hartlepool.
Over in Spain there was a double-helping of action for Atlético Madrid and Thibaut Courtois, but Diego Simeone’s team continue to fly high with a 2-0 Copa del Rey win over Real Betis, before recording a comfortable victory over Levante on Sunday by the same scoreline.
Courtois had an absolutely exceptional game against Betis, pulling off a series of world-class saves including a quite unbelievable triple-stop in the second half.
An unfortunate product of his exceptional form and sky-high potential is interest from elsewhere and in a week where Barcelona discovered they may well lose Victor Valdés at the end of the season, the best goalkeeper in Spain has duly been linked with the best club in Spain. It will certainly be an interesting summer for the big Belgian stopper, wherever he ends up.
Lucas Piazon this week joined Málaga until the end of the season, but played no part in either of their fixtures in the last seven days due to only just arriving in the country.
In La Segunda, Ulises Dávila helped Sabadell to a 4-1 win over second-placed Girona, a result which keeps the club in the top half of the table and in the playoff hunt. In La Tercera, Leganés beat Real Madrid C 2-1, but Jhon Pírez did not play. His whereabouts are genuinely unknown.
Over in Germany, Kevin De Bruyne was another who played in a very advanced, ‘false nine’ type role for Werder Bremen as the Bundesliga returned from its winter break. It was, however, a game to forget as opponents Dortmund were rampant and destroyed De Bruyne and co. 5-0.
Hamburg drew 1-1 away to Nurnburg with Jeffrey Bruma coming on as an early 15th minute substitute to replaced the injured former Chelsea defender Michael Mancienne. Bruma has been extensively linked with a move to PSV Eindhoven this week and Hamburg would almost certainly sanction his departure, although the severity of Mancienne’s injury may change their approach. The move may also be a permanent deal, although that remains to be seen at this stage.
Thorgan Hazard and Zulte-Waregem were denied their chance to take on league leaders Anderlecht due to the snow, whilst Matej Delac and Inter Zapresic are still on a winter break in Croatia and don’t return until the middle of next month.