With Everton wobbling, Rooney set for tough return to United
ABS-CBN Sports on Sep 16, 2017 08:39 AM
Everton's Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
By Steve Douglas, Associated Press
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — 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 on Sunday 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.