This week’s Loan Report is in honour of the fine country of Belgium. Chelsea have become increasingly enamoured with their footballers in recent years, and many of them continue to make impressive progress in their young careers.
This week, Romelu Lukaku scored his first professional hat-trick, Kevin De Bruyne reached double figures in goals on the last weekend of the Bundesliga season, Thorgan Hazard netted twice as Zulte-Waregem confirmed their place in the Champions League, and Thibaut Courtois’ extra-time heroics sealed a first Copa del Rey win for Atlético Madrid in seventeen years.
Here’s to you, Belgium.
We’ll start with Lukaku, who was amongst the chief beneficiaries of playing against a backup Manchester United defence on the last day of the season and indeed, the last game of Sir Alex Ferguson’s career. He grabbed a second-half treble – having come on at half-time – in a remarkable 5-5 draw at The Hawthorns. His first was a low, steered effort on his right foot which Anders Lindegaard might have done better with, his second was a lovely composed finish, and his third a poacher’s effort bundled over the line from close range.
He finishes the campaign with seventeen goals, a commendable return and a sign that he might very well be ready to make an impact at Stamford Bridge next season.
Where he’ll actually play though is far from certain, and the same can be said for De Bruyne. He signed off in Bremen with a brace in their final day defeat to Nurnburg, but his ten goals and nine assists comfortably made him the club’s most valuable player this season and he will be moving onto bigger and better things next season, whether at Chelsea, Dortmund, Leverkusen or somewhere else.
In Belgium, Thorgan Hazard continued to make a name for himself – no mean feat when your older brother is the sumptuously talented Eden – by scoring twice and laying on two further goals for Zulte Waregem as they thumped Club Brugge in midweek to set up a spectacular last day title decider away to Anderlecht.
Having absolutely run rings around Bruges, Hazard and company knew nothing less than a win would be enough to see them lift a first ever title, but their task in winning away to the perennial giants of Belgian football was not an easy one. They took the lead in the second half when Hazard found Mbaye Leye and he crossed for Jens Naessens to head home, but Lucas Biglia’s deflected free kick secured the hosts the point they needed to claim the glory.
The point was enough to book a place in next season’s Champions League Qualifiers for Essevee though, and whilst they’ll be unseeded and up against a potentially huge side, they’ve shown this season that they have enough about them to make a real go of it. Whether they can hold onto Thorgan and some of his team-mates, though, is another matter.
The feel-good stories continue in Spain, where for the third season running Thibaut Courtois picked up silverware, and this time it was in enthralling style. Atlético Madrid won a first domestic cup in almost two decades and a first Madrid derby win in fourteen years by upsetting Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, triumphing 2-1 in extra time.
Courtois had relatively little to do during the 90 minutes but was decisive in extra time, making two unbelievable saves to preserve the lead and clinch the trophy. The first from Gonzalo Higuain was a close-range block using every inch of his huge frame, but the second cannot accurately be described in words; it was out of this world.
Everything elsewhere sort of paled in comparison to the excellent exploits of the Belgian quartet, although there were slim pickings due to Lucas Piazon not being in action with Málaga having been due to play cup-bound Real Madrid this weekend and Jeffrey Bruma finishing his stay in Hamburg by remaining an unused substitute at home to Leverkusen. Jhon Pírez was also absent again as Leganés took on Real Avilés without the injury-prone Uruguayan forward.
Ulises Dávila was fit to return to the bench for Sabadell and came on just before the hour as they hosted relegation strugglers Racing Santander, but he was unable to affect the result as they went down 2-0.
In Croatia, Matej Delac and Inter Zapresic faced off against Cibalia knowing they could go a long way to ensuring survival by taking points off of a team below them in the table, but a 1-0 defeat now leaves the two tied on points, with Inter only outside of the drop zone on goal difference. It was a greater disappointment for the fact Cibalia played 70 minutes with ten men, having had their goalkeeper sent off early on.
The league season finishes next weekend with Inter hosting mid-table Slaven Belupo, by which point they could be in the bottom three should Zadar win their game in hand against Rijeka. They’ll need Delac to be in his best form if they’re to avoid the drop to the second tier.
Finishing up in South America, Fluminense and Wallace remain on a short break until the middle of the coming week, whilst Cristian Cuevas is likely to feature for O’Higgins away to Deportivo Iquique later tonight. News of his involvement will be here in an updated revision tomorrow morning.