WE ARE probably none the wiser about the Stephen Kenny project. Two good, two bad seems to be the common opinion of Ireland's most recent run of Nation League games. The disappointment of the earlier Armenia and Ukraine defeats were tempered by the accomplished victory over Scotland and the battling away draw to Ukraine in Poland.
The Irish goal of the year from Michael Obafemi against the Scots last Saturday was amazingly superseded three days later by Nathan Collins's wonder run and finish against Ukraine on Tuesday. So we went from the frustration of not being able to find a pass in the final third of the field in our opening two Nations League games to debating have we witnessed the best goals in the history of Irish football in the following two games.
It's clear that Kenny has made progress with this team, especially with the younger new players in the squad. But then again, football is a results-backed business and one win out of four games is far from impressive. Then again, our style of football is a lot more pleasant on the eye than what went before it, even if it has yet to match those historic results.
Kenny has done enough to get more time on the job, not that we have any real options for change, but his project to get us playing football in a style comparable with the best in the game is certainly compelling enough to continue with his endeavours.
Unfortunately, we now have to wait until September till he can advance with his work. The perennial curse of international managers is that you have to hand back your players to their clubs just as you are about to make progress on your vision.
Speaking of international football, we would normally be in the midst of World Cup competition now, enjoying all the best football from around the world, meeting in that unique amalgamation of competition we only see every four years. So instead of our usual summer gala of the 'beautiful game', we must now wait until the middle of November before we get our new petrodollar-fuelled competition on the world stage. Sure, when it comes around, we will watch it, maybe even enjoy it. But it's still an uncomfortable example of the petro-cash tail waving the governing dog, and who knows where that will lead in the future?
The biggest impact of this new scheduled World Cup will be on the major domestic leagues of Europe, who now need to break mid-November and not return till the Boxing Day fixtures in the case of the Premier League players. Players, who already are set to return early to their clubs this summer so the league can get on with their fixtures on time.
Therefore, we will now witness the first game of the 2022/2023 season as early as August 5, for the London derby between Crystal Palace and Arsenal.
That opening weekend will see Liverpool face newcomers Fulham. Peculiarly, this is the Reds' fourth time in a row facing a newly-promoted side in their opening game of the season. Meanwhile, the nouveau riche Newcastle face the other new side, Nottingham Forest, playing their first Premier League match in 23 years. The two Manchester sides wait until the Sunday to open their accounts with matches against Brighton and West Ham respectively.
Some of the early highlights see Liverpool go to Old Trafford on Saturday, August 20. The Merseysiders won 5-0 in their last visit there, which pretty much killed off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at the wheel. It will be a very early and maybe unfair indicator of Erik ten Hag’s managerial credentials. Indeed, the unfortunate Dutchman not only faces Liverpool early on, but his side also meets Arsenal, Man City, Spurs, and Chelsea. all before the end of October. If he and United can do well in these fixtures, it will be a big step in ensuring whether his time at United is a success.
Chelsea v Spurs is a tough first London derby for both sides on August 13. The first Merseyside derby is on September 3, at Goodison Park.
On the same day, United face Arsenal at Old Trafford.
City first meet Spurs on September 10 at the Eastlands, while the following weekend, September 17, sees Chelsea host Liverpool.
October 1 sees the first Manchester derby at Eastlands, while Arsenal host Liverpool the following weekend, October 8.
All eyes will be on Anfield for the season's first league meeting of Liverpool and Man City on October 15 and we wonder will these two still be dominating events like the past few seasons.
City are away again, just three days later, to Arsenal on October 18.
Liverpool are away to Spurs on November 5 in the last big match before the World Cup break.