Everton kicked off their new season with a scrappy and unconvincing 1-0 win against MFK Ružomberok in the Europa League at Goodison Park.
Ronald Koeman picked a strong team lineup, but his hopes of going into the second leg without having to worry about the result were dashed by a sketchy performance from his side.
If he picks another “full strength” XI for the second leg it will be interesting to see who remains from this performance, and which of the players who only made the bench tonight will start in Slovakia.
Indeed, there are still questions around which of the club’s new signings will walk straight into the first team and which will provide squad options for the busy fixture schedule awaiting the club, should they qualify for the Europa League group stages.
The Croxteth-born forward looked a touch sharper on the ball than he did during the end of his time at United, but still wasn’t firing on all cylinders. His game was littered with signs of a renewed sense of enjoyment but also the drive of a man with something to prove, and maybe a World Cup to play in at the end of the season. However, it didn’t quite happen for him on a frustrating night against awkward opposition.
As Rooney made his return, three more new signings made their debut for the Toffees.
Cuco Martina started at right back ahead of Mason Holgate but, a couple of decent crosses aside, he doesn’t seem to have settled into his new team yet. The Englishman might expect to start in his place in the second leg, and there he will hope to put in a good case to make the position his own for the rest of the season.
Davy Klaassen looked more settled, and slotted in well behind Rooney in the middle of the the 4-2-3-1 formation’s attacking midfield three. He took part in some good combination play with the striker and right winger Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but like the rest of the players he struggled when it came to providing a cutting edge.
The other new signing, Michael Keane, was the pick of the centre-backs on show, but Ashley Williams’ performance alongside him shows why the club might look for another player to operate on the left side of the centre of defence while Ramiro Funes Mori remains sidelined.
The home team made especially hard work of the first half, and even let their much weaker opposition in on a couple of occasions. Williams looked out of sorts, Kevin Mirallas couldn’t get much going on the left, while Martina looked like a poor man’s Jonjoe Kenny.
Calvert-Lewin provided the occasional spark, linking up with his team-mates on the occasions they could find him, and Koeman says that his team failed to exploit the space the young forward had available to him in the first half.
“We had created two or three good chances in the first half,” said the Dutchman, looking on the bright side before pointing out the error of their ways.
“What we did wrong was — their left full back was not really [a] defender — and three clips that I showed them at half time were when we won the ball there was lot of space in transition to attack [on that side]. Dominic was totally free and we didn’t pass the ball to him.”
Is it fair to judge these players in such a game? One which turned into little more than a pre-season friendly? Koeman thinks not.
“The second half was more aggressive and finally we created some chances. 1-0 isn’t a bad result, even though everyone expected better result. But it is only the fourth week of pre-season.
“We had some good chances to score second goal and get a perfect result but, in Europe 1-0 and clean sheet is a good result.”
Everton looked sharper when Sandro came off the bench to lead the line. Even though the Spaniard didn’t really get in on the act fully, his presence and pace worried the opposition defence and gave Rooney, who dropped deeper, and the other attacking players that bit more space.
Jordan Pickford was the only new signing who might have expected to see some action not to feature, but Koeman explained after the game that he was behind the other players in terms of his pre-season preparation.
It is early days, and it is too early to judge, but the introduction of Sandro in the second half of this season opener hinted that Rooney’s future, if he’s to have one as a regular in the side will be in a deeper role.
The potential arrival of Gylfi Sigurdsson could scupper this, and Koeman will have a number of decisions to make throughout the season as his side aim to put their mouth where their money is.