On paper, a winning goal for Wayne Rooney on his second debut as an Everton player in Premier League football, is as good as any script line could get.
And while the boyhood blue’s fabulous first-half header proved to be the vital difference for Ronald Koeman’s men as they beat Stoke City 1-0 on Saturday afternoon, Rooney’s performance was certainly mixed.
Here, we analyse the former Manchester United star’s second-coming for the Toffees.
What did you make of Rooney’s performance?
For the most part, he was too deep, stepping on the toes of Everton’s two defensive midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye. While he has never been an out-and-out striker, his decline in pace and movement has obviously contributed to this.
In fact, he was dispossessed four times in key midfield areas and was often slow in possession.
His goal obviously arrived courtesy of a run from deep but Everton need to play with more of a genuine threat in the final third, given Sandro Ramirez is the only other attacking option.
Rooney still seems to be getting back to his top fitness level and with tough tests to come against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United, as well as a two-legged Europa League first-round play-off tie against Hajduk Split, he is sure to be tested to the max.
While Leighton Baines’ delivery from a deal-ball situation wasn’t as consistent last season as it has been in previous years, it’s been a surprise to see the left-back now only take a handful of set-pieces.
Rooney now seems to be Everton’s main free-kick and corner taker, from either side, but struggled to find any rhythm at Goodison.
A free-kick from 35 yards out in the 33rd minute, which he ballooned way over the bar when looking to steer the ball towards the back post, was proof of that.
Other than Baines, expect Rooney to take most dead ball plays when he’s on the pitch, with Kevin Mirallas being the only other player in the mix. That could all change though if Gylfi Sigurdsson pens his long-awaited transfer to the Blues.
England’s record goalscorer has been written-off by many, especially from a physical perspective, but the 31-year-old is still better than most when it comes to reading the game and adjusting his movement accordingly.
Having endured a largely anonymous 45 minutes, where sloppy possession and footwork characterized his afternoon in the Merseyside sun – suddenly, Rooney came to life.
Idrissa Gueye and Everton’s No.10 exchanged passes 30 yards out, and then eventually found the otherwise quiet Sandro who slid the ball to striker-turned-right-wing full-back Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The England under-20 star hit a first time cross from the right which Rooney met with a bullet header, that was slightly behind him, to nod home his 199th Premier League goal and cue an emotional celebration.
The key was the way Rooney continued his run into the box, showing his desire to make an impact and get on the end of the cross. It has to be said, Mark Hughes won’t be pleased with his side’s defending.
If Rooney produces 10-15 moments of this magnitude this season then you would have to say it’s been good business to bring him back to the club by Koeman.
As Stoke tired and Everton controlled the lion’s share of the possession, Rooney began to thread forward-thinking ideas together and certainly looked more at ease with himself – the goal massively helping his confidence levels.
Indeed, he linked-up well with Calvert-Lewin and started to get the crowd behind him.
However, in truth, it was a dire contest – not one to fully judge Rooney on. It also served to heighten predictions made by many that Stoke could be relegated this season.
It’s one match, yes – but Rooney is of course a more effective player when playing a) regularly and b) knowing he is the main man in the starting line-up.
Defensively, Rooney manned the front post from opposition set-pieces to good effect – making a string of crucial interceptions.
He was again there in injury-time, winning tackles and helping Everton get up the other end of the pitch.
7 – A winning goal on his return to Goodison Park – his only effort on goal in the match – and three points to the Blues made it an afternoon to remember for Rooney.
He’s not the player of old by any stretch of the imagination and Everton need to find other alternatives, instead of relying on the boyhood blue to deliver on a frequent basis this season.
Michael Carrick believes “things are on the up” at Manchester United, with the captain confident Jose Mourinho’s men are in a better place to challenge for the Premier League than a year ago.
West Ham arrive at Old Trafford in Sunday’s late kick-off as United look to launch a sustained title bid for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson bowed out with the league crown in 2013.
Having not finished below third in the Premier League during the Scot’s reign, remarkably they have not finished higher than fourth since his retirement.
Sixth place was a poor return in Mourinho’s first season at the helm – even if Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory tempered disappointment – and recently-appointed captain Carrick expects better in the league this term.
“It is difficult to say what our chances in the league are but we are setting out to be on top,” the midfielder, a five-time Premier League champion with United, said.
“We have certainly improved the squad, we look stronger, we are a year further ahead with the manager and his staff, we are in a better place than we were last year, so things are on the up.
“For large spells of last season, we felt we should have been higher up in the league than we were and performances certainly warranted that for large periods as well.
“But it is too easy to sit here and say that.
“We need to improve because we ended up a distance away from the top. Hopefully this season we will be right up there challenging.”
United finished an eye-watering 24 points behind Chelsea, despite having suffered defeats on as many occasions as the champions.
Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic arrived over the summer to bolster a team that now has Champions League football to look forward to.
“The league is special because it is such a tough division to win,” Carrick – the last remaining member of 2008 continental champions – said.
“When you come out on top it is an unbelievable feeling to know you are the best team in the country, and you have gone through all sorts of things along the way to win that.
“Cup competitions are special because it is a slightly different feeling. Winning a trophy is winning a trophy and the feeling you get from it is incredible.
“There are obviously bigger competitions than others, but we will certainly be fighting on all fronts to win as much as we can.”
United are only without long-term absentees Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo for Sunday’s season opener against the Hammers, who have conducted some impressive transfer business.
Marko Arnautovic, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart have all signed for Slaven Bilic’s side, as has former United striker Javier Hernandez, who is in line to make his debut at Old Trafford this Sunday.
“Yeah, I think they have improved,” former West Ham midfielder Carrick told United Review.
“Obviously Chicha is there now and hopefully he doesn’t come back and do too well in the first game!
“But I wish him all the best for the rest of the season.”
A malcontent figure stomps down the touchline at Stamford Bridge. The bravado from the stands as Premier League champions are uproariously welcomed only temporarily masks the problems which envelope a capricious club which history shows is capable of producing self-immolation from moments of joyous success.
From Jose Mourinho and the dying embers of his second Chelsea reign in 2015, you can now read Antonio Conte. A summer wrought with anguish in the transfer market has, once again, provided unnecessary intrigue for when the Blues’ latest title defence begins in earnest – this time at home to Burnley.
What makes the situation even more combustible, more threatening to hopes of progression is how new circumstance has greatly increased the risk of escalation.
For a manager of Conte’s precipitous demands, £135 million (Dh643.2m) spent by season’s start is simply not acceptable.
In his mind, Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, emerging Monaco anchorman Tiemoue Bakayoko, versatile Germany defender Antonio Rudiger and Manchester City back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero must be added to. Personal affront will follow if technical dir-ector Michael Emenalo fails him.
The former Nigeria defender has been here before. When a lengthy and public courtship of centre-back John Stones – then of Everton – ended in failure, the seeds of Mourinho’s demise were truly planted. Worryingly, the repercussions of an inability to add ballast should play out with more vigour on this occasion.
Squad depth has become the main phrase associated with Chelsea’s summer of strife. Both Conte and skipper Gary Cahill have highlighted the damage a sparsity of playing options could have.
But Conte has conspicuously stripped back Chelsea’s squad since his arrival last summer. Only 11 players have come in during this time, with nearly 70 exits sanctioned – some repeatedly via the club’s infamous and prolific use of the loan system.
Not all of these departures seem valid when judged in relation to the manager’s complaints. Was 13 goals in 38 appearances at Ajax not enough to convince that versatile Burkina Faso attacker Bertrand Traore was worthy of keeping hold of, while couldn’t greater opportunity have been granted to at least one of England Under-21 midfielders Nathaniel Chalobah or Ruben Loftus-Cheek in 2017/18?
The impact of this approach is heightened by the return of European football. Conte is renowned for diligent work on the training pitch and making precise demands.
Less preparation time could have an insidious effect. At Juventus, he combined Serie A wins with dispiriting quarter-final and group stage-exits in the Champions League.
Injury also adds another layer to the potential for discord. Early momentum is key during a title push, yet Chelsea must generate it without injured talisman Eden Hazard until at least next month.
Newly-moneyed Everton and Arsenal could be hosted without him, as well as a trip undertaken to challengers Tottenham Hotspur.
Enlivening success was not able to stifle the currents of discontent whirling through Conte’s mind three years ago, as anguish about the summer market led to a tumultuous exit from Juve.
When such a pained decision was made about the club of his heart, it does not seem disingenuous to conclude troubled waters lie ahead for the Blues.