The number of Chelsea youngsters currently out on loan may be dwindling, but as January comes to an end we have the overseas players returning to action after their winter breaks, whilst Ryan Bertrand and Reading continue to experience good times in the FA Cup after such a torrid league campaign.
The week began with Carling Cup action for Franco Di Santo and Blackburn, who headed to Villa Park needing to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit if they were to reach Wembley. Franco started on the bench and only entered the fray for the final 18 minutes, at which point his side trailed Villa by five goals to three, having been reduced to ten men in the first half. He served as a targetman for Rovers’ attempts to bombard the home penalty area with long balls, but they fell to a 6-4 defeat on the night and failed to reach the season’s first showpiece final.
Franco was out of action at the weekend, with Blackburn eliminated from the FA Cup, but Michael Mancienne once again went back into central defence for Wolves as they hosted Championship playoff chasers Crystal Palace at Molineux. As ever, opinions on his performance vastly differed but after a poor start he became more assertive and looked the part, but will have to face a replay as Palace came away with a creditable 2-2 draw. Scott Sinclair and Wigan face the same prospect after being held to a 2-2 draw at League Two moneybags Notts County. Sinclair started and completed 70 minutes but was largely quiet as the Latics fell two goals behind in a poor performance before rescuing it late on.
Ryan Bertrand, however, went straight into the hat for the next round as Brian McDermott’s Reading eliminated a second consecutive Premier League opponent, following up their win over Liverpool with a late victory to upset Burnley at the Madejski Stadium. Ryan had one of his best performances of an already impressive season personally, looking very much comfortable against opposition from a higher division. He was solid in defence and caused problems going forward, and on a weekend where Patrick van Aanholt was involved with Chelsea’s first team squad, he went some way to reminding his parent club there’s another talented left-back waiting in the wings.
Miroslav Stoch’s FC Twente returned to league action on Sunday afternoon but they dropped two crucial points away to Groningen, and whilst they remain unbeaten, they relinquished top spot to PSV Eindhoven, the first time they’ve not been atop the Eredivisie since the early weeks of the season. The Slovakian played the full match and tested goalkeeper Luciano once in the first half, but despite the chances they created, Steve McClaren’s team couldn’t find the breakthrough. Slobodan Rajkovic returned to the starting line-up for the first time in three months, having fully recovered from hernia surgery, and played the entireity of the clean sheet fixture at centre-back.
We’ll finish, as usual, in Croatia with Matej Delac. Inter Zapresic returned to action last Wednesday night with a number of new faces and trialists, and the unfamiliarity showed in a disappointing 3-1 defeat to NK Vrbovec. The fixture was a friendly match, meaning Matej was substituted, but they returned to winning form at the weekend with a 2-0 win over NK Rudar Velenje. League fixtures do not resume until February 20th, when Inter will face a trip to Cibalia.