Romelu Lukaku has headlined many a Loan Report so far this season, but this week he’s way out on his own as the outstanding performer of the last seven days.
The big Belgian forward was almost unplayable this weekend as West Brom travelled to Reading, and although the hosts pulled off a miraculous turnaround in the final ten minutes to take a 3-2 victory, it was all about Lukaku.
He recorded his first multi-goal game in English football, scoring in both halves as well as striking the woodwork twice and seeing another effort disallowed. He was a constant menace and can genuinely feel hard done by not to have scored at least two more goals.
His first goal came after a fine piece of quick interplay with James Morrison, exchanging passes before receiving the decisive cross and sweeping home from close range. He then saw one rightly chalked off for offside, hit the post with a header and had a sweetly-struck shot cannon back off the crossbar.
The second of his strikes came after he picked up the ball in space, drove towards the edge of the area and unleashed a fierce drive which beat the goalkeeper at his near post.
It was the fifth time in six games that Lukaku has been in Steve Clarke’s starting eleven and he has really earned his increased opportunities. He tends to score when given considerable time on the pitch and after the game yesterday had a similar goals-to-minutes-played ratio to the league’s leading scorer, Robin van Persie.
His stay at The Hawthorns has been confirmed until the end of the season and with nine goals for the year now, there’s no reason to think he won’t end up with a final total in the 15 to 20 range.
Elsewhere in England, Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah went head-to-head in a top of the table clash in the Championship as Middlesbrough hosted Watford. McEachran has been out injured for a couple of weeks but was fit enough to return to Boro’s starting line-up for this game.
Watford came out 2-1 winners and Chalobah had his customary tidy game in midfield, using the ball well and covering a lot of ground, whilst McEachran was substituted after an hour of his comeback.
He had the best chance to score of either player though, finding himself clear on goal but lost his footing at a crucial moment. He’s struggled for form for the last six to eight weeks – at least compared to his excellent start – but that can largely be attributed to this being his first full-length professional season. It will come with natural peaks and troughs, but the most important thing is that he’s getting excellent experience and continuing to develop.
Josh also took time this week to sit down with the Guardian for an in-focus interview, which you can read HERE.
On Friday night, Todd Kane made his debut for Blackburn Rovers, having swapped League One’s Preston North End for another Lancashire side not too far down the road. He was drafted in for a month after regular starter Adam Henley went down injured.
Manager Gary Bowyer will have known all about him having watched him up close in the 2010-11 Premier Reserve League Final, and entrusted him with a start against Wolves’ Bakary Sako, one of the better left wingers in the league.
He held his own throughout and did not look out of place in a team which played top-flight football last season. He had a couple of forays forward to little effect but should have given new boss Michael Appleton – who now takes over from caretaker Bowyer – enough reason to keep him in the fold.
Fellow right-back Sam Hutchinson remains injured and there is unfortunately no timetable for his return.
On Friday, Billy Clifford got the loan move many Chelsea followers have long hoped he got. It wasn’t to the Championship, which would have been magnificent, but instead to League One strugglers Colchester United. Manager Joe Dunne has been keen to use young Premier League talent on loan to try and get the Essex side out of their slump, as well as drawing on the club’s own youth ranks.
The U’s are therefore a very young side and Billy got 90 minutes in an attacking midfield role on his debut against Scunthorpe. A ninth straight defeat followed but the newcomer played well and should get plenty of playing time at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Clifford is also the only Blue on loan in League One now, with MK Dons confirming that Patrick Bamford has returned as scheduled after injury.
In Spain, Thibaut Courtois kept a pretty routine clean sheet for Atlético Madrid in a 2-0 win over Zaragoza. It’s his first of 2013, a year which promises to be potentially very interesting for the young stopper.
In the second division, Ulises Dávila and Sabadell picked up their form again with an impressive 2-0 win over second-placed Alcorcón. The Mexican played his now customary 90 minutes and laid on the second goal for Lanza as he continues to be productive and useful.
Jhon Pírez did not play for Leganés, as usual.
The Dutch league remains on a winter break so Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt and Tomas Kalas have not been in league action for Vitesse, but like most Dutch clubs the Arnhem side have been away on a training camp and have been playing friendlies. The wins have been comfortable as they’ve been playing amateur fodder, but Kakuta has at least been finding the scoresheet.
Amin Affane and Kenneth Omeruo are also on a winter break, although Omeruo will be representing Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations. Kevin De Bruyne and Jeffrey Bruma are also yet to resume action in the Bundesliga, and Thorgan Hazard is still on a break in Belgium.
There was some rare good news this week for Croatian goalkeeper Matej Delac, who escaped his latest hell at Vitória in Portugal and returned to his homeland and former club Inter Zapresic for the rest of the season. Inter wouldn’t have brought him back unless they intended to play (and rehabilitate) him, so he should finally get to play.