With Ever­ton wob­bling, Rooney set for tough re­turn to United

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Wayne Rooney en­dured a tough fi­nal year at Manch­ester United while his sta­tus at the club was slowly eroded, and his first re­turn to Old Traf­ford since his off­sea­son de­par­ture might be just as un­com­fort­able.

Ever­ton, Rooney’s new club, heads there for an English Premier League match to­mor­row in dread­ful form, punc­tur­ing the op­ti­mism gen­er­ated over the sum­mer by Rooney’s home­com­ing af­ter 13 years away and a slew of other ex­pen­sive sign­ings.

Back-to-back 3-0 losses — to Tot­ten­ham in the league and Ata­lanta in the Europa League — over the past week fol­lowed Ever­ton’s lack­lus­ter 2-0 de­feat at Chelsea be­fore the two-week break for in­ter­na­tion­als.

Hardly ideal prepa­ra­tion for a trip to United, the Premier League leader and high­est-scor­ing team in the di­vi­sion.

Al­ready, the pre­sea­son talk of Ever­ton, whose last tro­phy was the 1995 FA Cup, fi­nally be­ing in a po­si­tion to close the gap to Eng­land’s es­tab­lished heavy­weight has evap­o­rated.

Ever­ton man­ager Ron­ald Koe­man ac­knowl­edged on Fri­day there was “enough rea­son to be wor­ried” and called for his “ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers to stand up.” Koe­man said he has set up a meet­ing with the se­nior mem­bers of his squad to ad­dress his con­cerns.

“I saw a team with a lot of doubts,” Koe­man said of the chas­ten­ing loss to Ata­lanta on Thurs­day.

The big­gest prob­lem for Ever­ton is the lack of pace and pres­ence up front. The club spent 140 mil­lion pounds ($190 mil­lion) in the trans­fer win­dow — bring­ing in at­tack­ing mid­field­ers Gylfi Sig­urds­son, Davy Klaassen and Nikola Vla­sic, goal­keeper Jordan Pick­ford and de­fender Michael Keane — but didn’t suc­cess­fully re­place Romelu Lukaku, who was sold to United for at least 75 mil­lion pounds (then $97 mil­lion).

San­dro Ramirez and Rooney were for­wards signed by Koe­man in the off­sea­son but nei­ther player is in the mold of Lukaku, a pow­er­ful tar­get man who stretches de­fenses with his pace.

Sig­urds­son, Klaassen and Rooney all like play­ing the No. 10 role, be­hind the striker, and their at­tributes ap­pear too sim­i­lar to fit in the same team. Koe­man tried to do so against Ata­lanta, and it didn’t work out.

Put sim­ply, Ever­ton is too easy to de­fend against. In four Premier League games, the team has scored two goals — both com­ing from Rooney, who has been one of the few play­ers to es­cape crit­i­cism. So far, any­way. Rooney is ex­pected to get a warm re­cep­tion from United’s fans at Old Traf­ford. He spent 13 years at United, and was its most re­cent cap­tain and all-time record scorer with 253.

“He will get the wel­come he de­serves,” United man­ager Jose Mour­inho said on Fri­day. “In this coun­try, the word ‘leg­end’ comes too easy. That’s not his case. He is a real leg­end at this club.

“The sta­dium will show him the re­spect that he de­serves, I hope be­fore the match and af­ter the match but not dur­ing the match.”

Af­ter be­ing marginal­ized last sea­son in Mour­inho’s first year in charge, Rooney — a player who al­ways takes the field feel­ing he has a point to prove — will be de­ter­mined to show he can still cut it on the high­est stage.

Cur­rent form sug­gests, how­ever, that Ever­ton and Rooney are in for a dif­fi­cult af­ter­noon. It also re­mains to be seen if Rooney is in the right frame of mind to play, con­sid­er­ing he is due to ap­pear in court on Mon­day to an­swer a charge of drunk-driv­ing.

Asked whether his own job might be un­der pres­sure, Koe­man said he knew mod­ern-day soc­cer was “all about win­ning and re­sults.

“I’m too long in the job to think any dif­fer­ent,” he said.

What will help Ever­ton is the ab­sence of United mid­fielder Paul Pogba, who picked up a ham­string in­jury in the Cham­pi­ons League in mid­week.

But in Lukaku, United has a player who can re­mind Ever­ton of ex­actly what they are miss­ing.

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