It says much of the transformation that has taken place this year that many Everton fans felt a little disappointed to have only drawn 1-1 at Manchester City on Monday night.
Manager Ronald Koeman was among them. Granted, this was a City side reduced to 10 men by Kyle Walker’s dismissal, but it is clear Everton are growing in strength and have enough to hold their own against the very best in the league. The season is young and much can change, but smart summer spending has altered their expectations.
Two of their signings, one young and one older, have led the way. Wayne Rooney and Jordan Pickford both played in front of England manager Gareth Southgate at the Etihad, and both will hope to be in his squad for the games against Slovenia and Malta later this month. Of the two, Pickford has by far the best chance of selection, possibly to the first XI given Joe Hart’s travails, but Rooney could still play his way back into contention as well.
The former England captain will never get back to the level he reached between 2007 and 2010 — which included winning the league three times in a row between 2007 and 2009. He won’t get back to where he was in 2013-14 either, the last season in which he scored more than 15 league goals. But he is in far better shape than he has been for several seasons and he seems to be finally adapting to his limitations. No longer does he seek to win games by himself, hoping against hope that time reverses and he somehow finds himself rejuvenated. He knows he can’t play like a pitbull loose in a park again, and he’s evolving to survive.
In his first league game back at Everton, he won the headlines for a deft match-winning header against Stoke, but that wasn’t the extent of his contribution. He led the team by example that day, clashing combatively with former teammate Darren Fletcher in the middle and rising to head away corner after corner at the back.
Against City, it was widely noted he covered more ground than any of his teammates (10.93 km). Less noted was the fact that his top speed (30.77 kph) wasn’t that much slower than all save his youngest, sprightliest colleagues Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate. The key is the number of sprints he recorded, just 45, fewer than all but the three…