For the second successive week, Croatian midfielder Mario Pašalić netted to extend the unbeaten run of Chelsea loanee goalscoring in the 2013-14 season to a 26th consecutive week, and in doing so made it 90 goals scored by the (current running total of) 30 Blues youngsters away on loan. It was a rare bright moment in a week which was otherwise rather disappointing on a number of levels, so we start in Split.
Pašalić’s signing went under the radar on transfer deadline day somewhat, although that was in large part due to the lack of a confirmation of the move by either side involved in the deal. It has been agreed though, with the midfielder this week once again discussing the deal when taking part in some midweek Hajduk club celebrations, telling the local media he would miss the club dearly “when [he moves] to Chelsea in the summer”.
He scored twice in the first league match back after the winter break last weekend and added an eighth of the season this past Friday night as Hajduk beat Dragovoljac 2-1, and for good measure he provided an assist for the second with a devilishly delivered corner kick.
Pašalić has gone from something of a complete unknown to a name garnering considerably increasing interest over the past fortnight, and there is growing speculation that he could even be an outsider for a spot in Croatia’s World Cup squad this summer. Only recently 19, his tall, box-to-box midfield approach and dual-footedness (despite favouring his left) has drawn some Michael Ballack comparisons, and even if he lacks the imperious leadership of the former German international at this stage, there’s definitely something there to work with.
It was FA Cup weekend in England, which meant no action whatsoever for Ryan Bertrand, Patrick Bamford and Todd Kane with their sides already eliminated, whilst Romelu Lukaku is still out injured for Everton. He might’ve been fit to return next weekend but since league rules preclude him from playing against his parent team, he’ll rehab through the Chelsea fixture and seek a return the following weekend against West Ham.
Victor Moses was an unused substitute for Liverpool as they were knocked out by Arsenal on Sunday afternoon, but there was cup action for Josh McEachran. He played half an hour from the bench as holders Wigan booked a spot in the last eight courtesy of a 2-1 win over Cardiff City. Their reward is a trip to Manchester City, a fixture in which it would be very interesting to see the young midfielder should he be selected.
Sam Hutchinson joined Sheffield Wednesday on a 28-day loan on Friday and was eligible for selection in their Fifth Round tie against Charlton on Saturday, but the match was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
There was a smattering of football league action elsewhere, the highest profile of which saw Nathaniel Chalobah return to Watford as a visiting player with Middlesbrough. He played 90 minutes and split time between midfield and defence, where he was asked to fill in following a red card for Ben Gibson. He had a solid if unspectacular game but did draw the ire of some of his former supporters after something of a scuffle with Fernando Forestieri.
Kenneth Omeruo remained an unused substitute and is apparently still struggling with match fitness at this stage.
In League One, Brentford go from strength to strength and beat Crewe 3-1 on Saturday to stay two points clear at the top of the table. George Saville has been as integral to their rise to the top of the standings as anyone and played another hard-working ninety minutes for the Bees, who are about to enter a period of the campaign which could go a long way to sealing promotion.
Milan Lalkovic and Walsall aim to join them, albeit through the playoffs, and played out a hard-fought goalless draw away to Peterborough on Friday night which kept them in contention. Lalkovic was booked for simulation in the second half.
Vitesse’s fifth match without a win in 2014 came at the hands of FC Twente on Saturday night and almost certainly ended their title aspirations for this season. Ajax’s win on Sunday leaves the Arnhem club eight points adrift in the Eredivisie standings and by losing to Twente, they now also find themselves four points away from a Champions League berth.
Patrick van Aanholt, Lucas Piazon and Christian Atsu all started as usual and Bertrand Traore got a substitute’s outing in the second half, but none of them did themselves any real justice in an all-round insipid display. Atsu and Piazon were substituted – the Brazilian in particular has struggled to recapture his form from before the winter break – whilst Van Aanholt was sent off after an hour for a late tackle from behind.
He was joined in being dismissed by NAC Breda’s Stipe Perica, who received his marching orders just two minutes after coming off the bench against Feyenoord for a reckless and late foul on Daryl Janmaat.
Cristian Cuevas swapped Arnhem for Eindhoven last week and made his full debut for second division FC Eindhoven on Friday night. They lost 5-2 at Excelsior but the Chilean did play the full match and should continue to do so.
Thibaut Courtois missed a second game through injury in midweek as Atlético Madrid relinquished their hold on the Copa del Rey, losing to Real Madrid, but he was back in goal on Saturday night to add another clean sheet to his collection in a 3-0 win over Valladolid.
Sevilla met Valencia in Sunday’s late game but neither Marko Marin nor Oriol Romeu featured. The latter will be out for just over a month after having to undergo knee surgery, and Marin was absent for technical reasons’ which haven’t yet been elaborated upon.
Uli Dávila made a rare start for second division Córdoba in their visit to Numancia but had little impact in their 3-0 defeat and was replaced after 52 minutes.
Jhon Pírez was an unused substitute for Leganés in a 2-0 victory over Laudio.
Thorgan Hazard missed Zulte Waregem’s 2-1 win over Cercle Brugge through suspension after accumulating yellow cards, but was also sent to train away from the first team group this week as part of a process designed to help him rest and recover some of his form from earlier in the season. He has twelve goals so far, but none in the league since late October, something which has been cause for concern.
Billy Clifford and Antwerp had the weekend off after their second division fixture was postponed.
Wallace didn’t play for Inter again – he doesn’t even make the subs bench any more either – but has at least been joined in Serie A by another Chelsea loanee who appears set for backup duty. Gael Kakuta was an unused substitute despite Lazio losing 3-1 at Catania and with a number of alternative options competing for an attacking midfield place, his work will be cut out to impress boss Edy Reja.
Kurt Zouma played at right back for Saint Etienne in a 1-1 draw against Marseille on Sunday evening. He had a great early chance to score a goal with an unmarked header from six yards out but otherwise looked competent in his secondary position, having been forced into duty there as part of a defensive reshuffle.
Matej Delac and FK Sarajevo remain on a winter break until the end of February.