LIVERPOOL, England — Three quick thoughts from Everton’s 1-0 season-opening win over Stoke City in the Premier League:
1. Rooney makes perfect homecoming
All summer long Everton fans have, privately or publicly, harboured their little doubts about Wayne Rooney. Some have never wavered, but for most there has been pointed talk of his “influence in the dressing room” and his “experience at the highest level,” those intangible qualities that would surely compensate for his fading powers. But on his second Premier League debut at Goodison Park on Saturday, Rooney showed that he still has something to offer as a player, as much as he does a mentor.
This was a turgid, joyless affair for 44 minutes where chances were rare and any excitement was limited to the occasional crunching tackle. But as the break approached, Everton finally found some space. Sandro slipped the ball out to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and his cross looped dangerously into the penalty area. Rooney’s movement was perfect, drifting off the defenders into space. The execution of his header was first class, deftly nodded back across Jack Butland as he raced across to cover. His celebrations were cathartic.
The crowd roared with him, in relief as much as delight. Relief that the deadlock had been broken. Relief that it was they who had broken it. Relief that Rooney, a serviceable, effective Rooney, was back. This was the homecoming they wanted, not the one they feared.
Like everyone else on the pitch, Rooney had struggled to shine in this stalemate. But he had certainly led by example. Stoke won three corners before the break. He headed all of them away. He tussled defiantly with former teammate Darren Fletcher, mostly coming off second-best, save for a nasty-looking early foul he inflicted on the Scot in the opening exchanges. It was gritty, bruising fare, but he was not found wanting.
Moved out onto the right after the break to support Calvert-Lewin, Rooney slowed and became increasingly florid, but no less committed. The pace has diminished, the stamina is draining and the touch isn’t always what it was, but perhaps he still has more to offer than his critics…