Romelu Lukaku took centre stage once again amongst Chelsea loanees this week as he struck his 14th goal of what has been an astoundingly successful season.
The Belgian forward might even have added to his tally against Swansea on Saturday but missed a poorly taken penalty kick and thus had to settle for just the one. It was a well-taken effort as he ran across his man to meet a cross at the near post and turned home first time on his weaker foot.
It was a generally impressive all-round performance from a player who has been improving every game in every aspect of his play. Some of his passing against the Swans was exquisite and belied a man of his stature, and combined with his focus and desire to succeed (as displayed in the video below of a recent interview in Belgium, turn on subtitles for English), he appears destined for very big things.
Elsewhere it was a weekend of assists and good performances, and a week of injury returns whilst others missed time with minor ailments. In Germany, Kevin De Bruyne racked up an eighth created goal of the season in a superb individual performance for Werder Bremen in a 1-1 draw away to Borussia Moenchengladbach.
De Bruyne was involved in absolutely everything throughout the match and was a constant threat to the hosts, capping his game by laying on a goal for Aleksandar Ignjovski to score thirteen minutes from time with a fierce cross from the right.
Jeffrey Bruma, Chelsea’s other Bundesliga loanee, got a rare start for Hamburg and was very good in keeping a clean sheet en route to a 1-0 victory away to Stuttgart.
In Spain, Lucas Piazón picked up a second assist in Málaga colours when he swung in a free kick for Martín Demichelis to head home away to Valladolid. The hosts recovered to earn a draw whilst Piazón was replaced with a quarter of an hour left but the Brazilian has earned greater trust from manager Manuel Pellegrini in recent weeks and seems set for more starts in the final months of the season.
Thibaut Courtois started Atlético Madrid’s fixture against Real Sociedad by setting a new La Liga record for minutes without conceding at home, passing the 800 minute mark set by Abel Resino in the 1990-91 season. Unfortunately, Xabi Prieto’s second half strike – the first Courtois has let in at the Vicente Calderón since October 28th – ended Atlético’s unbeaten home record with a 1-0 win.
Ulises Dávila was a sub for the fourth game running for Sabadell and played the second half of their 3-0 home loss to Ponferradina, a game in which their goalkeeper was sent off after making all three substitutions. The Mexican recently spoke of his happiness playing in Spain and that he was comfortable to continue playing there whilst waiting for the longer term developments of the plan Chelsea have for him to come to fruition.
Jhon Pírez was absent from Leganés’ squad as they drew 0-0 away to Sporting Gijon B.
Back in England, there was a double helping of Championship action this week but an inconsistency in Chelsea representation across the board.
Nathaniel Chalobah was named only as a substitute for Watford at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night but with the Hornets trailing by a goal at the break, Gianfranco Zola called for reinforcements and sent the teenager on. He helped turn the game on its head as Watford ran out 2-1 winners, but missed out at the weekend against Blackpool due to a hamstring problem. In his absence, Zola’s side lost 2-1.
Josh McEachran played an hour for Middlesbrough away to Huddersfield in midweek but missed Saturday’s loss to Bristol City through illness. George Saville, meanwhile, was left out of Millwall’s Tuesday fixture entirely and watched on from the bench in the FA Cup on Sunday as the Lions earned a replay against Blackburn Rovers.
Whilst McEachran and Chalobah were missing time, however, Sam Hutchinson made a welcome return ahead of schedule for Nottingham Forest. A defensive crisis forced him into a place on the bench against Ipswich and with a lead late in the game and a referee-induced two-man advantage, Billy Davies gave the defender a brief run-out, in which he even took a corner!
He wasn’t needed against Wolves four days later and by his own admission isn’t looking to rush his latest comeback from a long-term injury. He’s a welcome addition to a squad which is back in the playoff hunt though, and he’ll be competing with both McEachran and Chalobah for a place in the Premier League next season.
In League One, Billy Clifford and Sam Walker continue to be regular selections in Joe Dunne’s Colchester United team and they came back from a long midweek trip to Hartlepool with a clean sheet and another point in their battle against relegation, drawing 0-0.
Unfortunately they slipped up at home to Crewe on Saturday, with Walker arguably at fault for conceding the winner to Matthias Pogba. He let a near post shot sneak home despite getting a strong hand on it and will feel he could have done better. Clifford played well once more and has been providing a series of excellent set pieces for his team-mates to feast on in recent weeks.
Patrick Bamford also made his playing return this week, turning out for MK Dons for the first time since tearing a hamstring in the final game of his first loan at the club at the turn of the year. He was given half an hour away to fellow promotion battlers Sheffield United and did little other than pick up a harsh booking for what was considered a dive.
In the Netherlands, Vitesse’s form remains impressive as they hunt down a Champions League spot with three Blues youngsters in their ranks, and a 1-0 win away to FC Twente on Sunday afternoon did their cause a world of good. Tomas Kalas, Patrick van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta reprised their starting selections once again and were influential throughout.
Kakuta saw a goal harshly ruled out for a foul whilst Van Aanholt, the left-back of the season in the Eredivisie so far, was impactful at both ends and made a crucial goal line clearance to preserve the clean sheet for Fred Rutten’s men.
Kenneth Omeruo played at right-back once again for mid-table ADO Den Haag as they drew 1-1 away to AZ Alkmaar, and the Nigerian did well against a tough opponent in Jozy Altidore. Over at Roda, there is apparently no way back for Amin Affane after his outburst against the manager a few weeks ago and the most likely course of action will see him return to England and link up with Dermot Drummy’s Under-21 squad.
In Belgium, Thorgan Hazard and Zulte Waregem had moved themselves firmly into title contention after a fabulous week last time around but shot themselves in the foot with a 2-1 home defeat to Club Brugge (with Eidur Gudjohnsen scoring one of the goals) which leaves them six points adrift of Anderlecht again. The result ended an impressive eighteen-game unbeaten league run.
Hazard played the full 90 minutes and had one or two chances to score but with the league now just one round of games away from the split, Zulte’s fixtures are only going to get tougher from here on in.
There was another loss for struggling Inter Zapresic and Matej Delac in the Croatian league this weekend as they fell 2-1 to Rijeka despite taking the lead in the opening minute of play. He had a decent game but was unable to hold onto the shot which produced the rebound for Danijel Cesarec to score the winning goal.
As usual, we finish in South America, where Fluminense continue to hold Wallace out of action for no discernible reason. He missed their Copa Libertadores win over Huachipato, whilst Cristian Cuevas isn’t expected to be involved in O’Higgins’ Chilean league match away to Antofagasta later this evening. If he is, this space will be duly updated.