Save for one (very important) match, the LOI was on a break last weekend so the third round of the FAI Cup (the last 16 technically, though with the absence of Mons it’s really last 15) could take place.
Little to report on from there. Every game went as the bookies would have predicted. Shelbourne and Bohemians had a little bit of trouble getting over their respective non-league opponents, but the FAI Cup ¼ finals will contain only LOI clubs – Bohemians, Derry, Drogheda, Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne, St Patricks Athletic and the winner of today’s Waterford/Mervue game. Attendances were pretty shocking across the board, but will probably improve as the number of teams is cut down and the possibility of a Europa League spot gets closer.
The one league game was a doozy, as Sligo Rovers and St Pats battled to a scoreless draw. The Saints still have a game in hand on Sligo and Drogheda, but even a win in that game would still leave them eight points from the top. Sligo look very comfortable in first place. In terms of competition for Europa League places (2nd and 3rd), St Pats are ahead of Shamrock Rovers only by virtue of having scored a single goal more.
Limerick face Waterford on Friday, while Longford travel to rivals Athlone. Two huge games that will go a long way towards deciding the final positions of the entrenched top three of the First Division.
So, over to England then. It has not been a super inspiring start by United. Uncoordinated and lazy in their play and offensive efforts away to Everton, the 1-0 defeat was a just result for the performance that was out in. Rooney and Welbeck offered no threat upfront, and while the midfield proved able to pass the ball amongst themselves very effectively, the through balls and forward movement was severely lacking. The defence was, as you would expect with Ferdinand, Evans, Jones and Smalling injured, in bits with Valencia and Carrick not up to the task of keeping out a determined Everton attack.
On to Saturday then. Poor defending allowed two cheap goals to be scored, the worst being the second. Vidic seemed caught in two minds as to whether to go for the ball or not, went for it, pulled back, but not in time to stop himself heading it backwards a few yards from goal.
The given thing in this situation is to blame De Gea, because this is something that the media (and commentators) consistently do. But I tend to err towards Vidic in assigning blame, because De Gea at least committed to getting to the ball, and would have if Vidic hadn’t headed it backwards. Vidic later seemed uninterested in passing back to his keeper when it was the right option, a bad sign, and near the death seemed to be caught in a bizarre communications balls-up when he wanted De Gea to leave his goal and collect a ball without any signal being given, resulting in an unnecessary corner.
Vidic has not played in a long time, but he needs to get his act together fast. De Gea pulled off a number of crucial saves against Fulham and Everton, while Vidic has been far from convincing.
At least the goals came this time. Van Persie opened his account for the season with a whopper, but I was almost just as impressed with Evra’s cross that created it. More of that please, from both men. United’s pressure on a distinctly ordinary Fulham defence paid increasing dividends, and the score could easily have been 5-1 at half time.
But they sat back too much in the second, a dangerous habit that was partly responsible for a GD title loss last year. Fulham were allowed to get back into the game by a very comfortable United, in a situation eerily similar to the disastrous 4-4 vs Everton last season. United can count themselves lucky that the situation didn’t repeat itself.
Elsewhere the champions dropped their first points of the season, the City defence looking distinctly out of sorts against Liverpool, who really should have won that Anfield game. Like I said last week, they haven’t quite got over the hangover just yet. Liverpool can take some heart at least, but they still seem like a team preparing for next season almost.
Chelsea are the real side to watch, with Hazard showing pretty clearly why he’s such a good signing. Though, defenders are going to figure out that fouling him in the box is a bad idea eventually.
I’m not one of those that is expressing non-stop praise for Swansea just yet. While they have opened their 12/13 account very well, we should remember that they played two sides that look likely to be among the lower placed this year. West Ham are really struggling. Another side that is struggling is Aston Villa, with Shay Given looking far from his best against Everton. Worrying times ahead for them. It’s way too early to be talking relegation battles, but it is looking more and more clear that Aston Villa and West Ham are not going to be incredibly competitive this season.
And lastly Arsenal, who are doing themselves no favours when it comes to accusations that the team is toothless without RVP. For all of the Gunners fans blather about how the new signing will outdo the goal return of the Dutchman, Giroud, Pidolski and Cazorla have gotten Arsenal off to their most toothless start in years. Time to start scoring.