United End editor Tom McDermott on Lukaku’s blistering start that eclipses Denis Law and Ruud van Nistelrooy and Everton’s obvious lack of firepower despite signing Rooney
Saturday 7th February 2004, the last time Wayne Rooney played a competitive match for Everton, against Manchester United.
Five Premier League titles, four League Cups, the FA Cup, the Europa League, the Fifa World Club Cup and a Champions League trophy later, Rooney returns to Old Trafford on Sunday.
He does so not only with a crowded trophy cabinet, but as the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, four ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.
On the field this season his early form was promising too, and before he announced his international retirement we saw flashes of the old Rooney, scoring goals and proving the doubters wrong along the way.
But off the pitch, the forward has disappointed, struggling once more to control his drinking.
On Monday he will appear at Stockport magistrates’ court following his drink-drive arrest earlier in the month, driving another woman’s car while pregnant wife Coleen was on holiday in Spain.
There’s been no such trouble for Jose Mourinho and Romelu Lukaku at United.
The Belgian has made an impressive start to life at his new club, scoring six goals in his first six games – a better return than not only Rooney but also Denis Law and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman spent in excess of £100m over the summer, and while he’s sprinkled parts of his defence and midfield with star quality, there appears to be a gaping hole up front.
Of course it’s difficult to replace Lukaku’s goals, but a solution is required and pretty quickly.
Sandro Ramirez is still coming to terms with life in the Premier League after his move from Malaga, and as impressive as Rooney’s second coming has been, he was never going to plug the goal gap left by Lukaku.
More of a worry for Koeman will be his defence, which looked brittle and disorganised during the 3-0 Europa League defeat to Atalanta on Thursday.
Ashley Williams is expected to return to the starting XI on Sunday but alongside Michael Keane and Phil Jagielka the lack of pace in front of Jordan Pickford is something Mourinho may look to expose.
United go into the match buoyant having started the season well.
Their Premier League record at Old Trafford against the blue half of Merseyside is good as well, having won 18 and lost just one of their last 24 against them.
It hasn’t been completely straight forward for Mourinho and his preparation has been disrupted by a hamstring injury to Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman’s unfortunate absence presents an opportunity for one of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera or Marouanne Fellaini to partner the outstanding Nemanja Matic in midfield.
The Serbian’s signing is looking more and more shrewd by the week.
Before that though, the build-up will all be about Rooney.
The returning Liverpudlian will be respected and get the reception he deserves by United fans on Sunday.
And while we can all speculate about what might, and what might not have happened in his private life for United, like it or not, he’ll go down as a legend.
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