Everton kicked off their new Premier League season with a well earned, but hard-fought win over a stubborn Stoke City side.
Wayne Rooney proved to be the hero for the Blues as he nodded the only goal of the contest.
Here Phil Kirkbride runs his eye over the Blues and their showing.
Plenty of questions remain for Ronald Koeman and his new-look Everton but on days like Saturday Wayne Rooney looks like being the answer to all of them.
He returned to Goodison this summer to be a cog in the wheels of a revolution but when a turgid and uninspired opening day of the new season craved an injection of star quality, Rooney provided it.
Thirteen years on from his last league game for Everton, who else was it going to be?
A header, which required him to crane every one of his neck muscles, settled an often gruelling affair and got the Blues off to a winning start for the first time since 2012 but it was Rooney’s moments of quality, particularly in an improved second-half performance from Everton, that offered a welcome release from the ordinary and a vivid reminder of his lasting ability to influence games at this level.
Until he met Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s cross on the stroke of half-time, finishing off a flowing move with his head, the Blues had toiled and laboured against a Stoke City side whose first port of call was to reach a place named containment.
And then an admittance of fault from the manager, that he’d got his formation wrong, reinvigorated Everton after the break as Koeman scrapped three at the back, moved Calvert-Lewin from the right hand side to upfront and allowed Rooney to do what he does best: dictating games of football.
Passes were sprayed left, right and threaded through the middle as he cut the look of a man in love with being back at his boyhood club.
On Saturday, Rooney was the man. And the images of him sliding to his knees, clenching his fists and roaring in pure emotion, will be the defining images of this start to the new campaign.
The small print, soberingly, will be slightly less romantic.
Koeman knows that Everton cannot expect to rely on the 31-year-old to dig them out of the mire every week and it’s why Rooney was not brought home as a direct replacement for Romelu Lukaku, but rather as part of the solution.
The manager made a point of saying that the Blues can forget about challenging the top six if they don’t manage to buy a new centre-forward and nothing about Saturday afternoon will have changed his mind.
The burden of making up a 25-goal shortfall is only Rooney’s in part.
Calvert-Lewin will hope he is given the chance to help this season and was infinitely better in the second-half when diligently ploughing a furrow up front.
And on another day, and with more composure, the 20-year-old would’ve given Everton a bigger cushion and some much needed breathing space as Stoke began launching balls into the box in the hope of finding an equaliser they didn’t deserve.
Everton would hold onto their slender lead but still required a brilliant save from Jordan Pickford, in time added on from Xherdan Shaqiri, to protect the three points.
Of all the issues that remain for Koeman not for one second will he have had reason to question the purchase of Pickford.
Or Michael Keane, or Rooney – all three were excellent – or the reliability of Leighton Baines nor too, the fitness of his squad.
Phil Jagielka’s performance will have also pleased the manager but consistency in possession, game control, creativity, who plays right-back and formations are all puzzles for Koeman to solve.
He will believe many answers lie in weeks left in the transfer window and that the others will come with time but refused to make excuses for an, at times, desperate display in the first-half.
“Overall it was not the best performance but we know we could do much better,” he said afterwards.
As many will have predicted beforehand, it was a day where functionality won out and as in the two legs against Ruzomberok, Everton, simply, got the job done. Nothing more.
More, however, will be needed against better, stronger and more ambitious opposition – Chelsea, Man City and Spurs are the next three league games – but Koeman knows a repeat of today’s first-half showing, at least, and they will be punished.
Yet until the cavalry arrives, he knows he can count on Rooney.
Count on Rooney to add the quality, offer his experience, pick the right passes and, as in today, make a difference.
Even in the dying embers of the game, it was Rooney clearing their lines from a Stoke corner and then, soon after, winning a free-kick deep in the visitors’ half to alleviate the pressure.
He won’t be able to do it single-handedly, nobody expects him to, but Everton are thanking their lucky stars he’s back.
Especially on days like Saturday.
Source : DailyPost