Everton-Manchester United Preview
When Everton visit Old Trafford on Sunday, they'll see a familiar face in star striker Romelu Lukaku, but the bigger focus will be the return from one of their own to the famed Manchester United pitch.
Wayne Rooney will be back at the Theatre of Dreams for the first time since returning to Everton (1-1-2) this summer after spending the previous 13 years with United. It's believed Rooney will receive a warm reception from the Old Trafford faithful even though his final season there was a rough one and his need had dwindled. Rooney is the club's all-time leading scorer with 253 goals.
"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."
Perhaps Rooney's return will provide a means of motivation for Everton, which have been outscored 5-0 while dropping consecutive Premier League matches to Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The Toffees have managed two goals in league play, both by Rooney.
It's safe to say they currently miss the services of Lukaku, who made the big money move from Merseyside to Manchester this summer, with the striker stating his aim was to "win trophies" at United (3-1-0), who entered the weekend atop the table. But the 24-year-old's transfer also put him under big pressure. Could he gel with his new teammates? Would he perform to a level expected at his new, bigger club?
The early indications are that he's made the step up remarkably smoothly.
Four Premier League games in, and Lukaku has bagged four goals, while he also found the back of the net in both the season-opening European Supercup and Tuesday's 3-0 Champions League win over FC Basel.
"I just keep going," Lukaku said. "The next game up is Everton, we are going to prepare really well and get another result. "There are plenty of goals in the team. That's what the fans want, it's what we all want. We work really hard in training on a daily basis and it's good that different people can jump in whenever."
Everton know what they're going to come up against Sunday, but a far bigger priority for manager Ronald Koeman will be getting his own house in order. In addition to the back-to-back league defeats, the Toffees fell 3-0 to Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday.
The European defeat was particularly disappointing, with the team notably lacking pace up-front and cohesion at the back. But Koeman insists it is too early to blame the players for the team's lack of unity.
"It is not the time or the place to criticise the players," he said. "I have to criticise myself because the team was not prepared. It is a big lesson. I thought that was happening after the third goal against Tottenham at the weekend but I need to ask myself the question what I did wrong.
"They had aggression and passion. We made mistakes, the pitch wasn't the best, either, but it was the same for them. Atalanta showed to us the passion that you have to have when you play football. I am really sorry for the fans. It is a difficult moment."
Injuries have removed many of Koeman's pacey options in the side, with the lively Yannick Bolasie and Seamus Coleman both out with long-term injury problems. Ross Barkley also remains sidelined with a hamstring injury for the Toffees, but James McCarthy may be back after overcoming a knee injury.
For United, Marcos Rojo is out until Christmas, while Luke Shaw is also struggling for fitness. But it's midfielder Paul Pogba who will give Mourinho the biggest headache. Pogba picked up a hamstring injury in midweek and could be out for over a month.
Both of last season's meetings between these sides ended in 1-1 draws.
Updated September 15, 2017