Ok, it’s not been a vintage season to date, I admit. In reviewing the opening weeks of the campaign it’s easier to find something to moan about than it is be positive. So when I volunteered to try and pick out the highlights of 2017-18 so far I knew the barrel would be close to being scraped.
Rooney returns with a goal
Say what you like about Wayne Rooney, there is no doubting his love for Everton and desire to succeed upon his return to the club this summer.
Like most Blues I greeted the deal with cautious optimism. It’s obvious Rooney’s talents are on the wane and that he’s a shadow of the player he was even three or four years ago. However, I challenge any Evertonian to watch his signing video and not feel a twinge of excitement.
Evertonians are an emotional bunch and the optimism over Rooney’s return is clearly from the heart and not the head. But the scenes following his goal against Stoke may have gone a long way to silence the doubters.
It was a wonderful moment, made all the better by Rooney’s celebration in front of the Park End.
I’m still not convinced Rooney has what it takes to be a regular all the way through the season, but his desire, leadership and will to win are without question. If he can produce more magical moments like he did against The Potters, even sporadically, then his much publicised and over-hyped return will have been worth it.
Everton’s summer-long pursuit of Gylfi Sigurdsson meant the Icelander was under immediate pressure to perform after eventually joining the club for upwards of £40m. So to score from more than 40 yards on your first start is the ideal way to begin your Toffees career. It was a moment of inspiration from Sigurdsson that immediately eased the pressure on an Everton side that had struggled in the opening 45 minutes against Hajduk Split.
Frustratingly things haven’t quite clicked for Sigurdsson since, though that is largely to him being played out of his natural position.
Hopefully his goal for Iceland during the international break will be a timely reminder to Ronald Koeman that players perform at the best in their natural positions – something a £6m/year manager shouldn’t really need to be told.
Niasse at the double
The ironic thing about Oumar Niasse’s re-emergence as a Goodison cult hero is that it’s more down to the failings of our current manager rather than the Senegal striker’s ability.
I tend to agree with Koeman’s assertion that Niasse isn’t good enough for the club long-term. But the Dutchman’s ruthless treatment of the striker last season was harsh, even if reports of him being stripped of a locker are untrue.
However, Niasse’s attitude and professionalism throughout his time at the club cannot be questioned and he deserves credit for the way he behaved. Everton fans can forgive technical failings if a player is seen to be giving his all and so Niasse’s all-action style and burning desire to do well was warmly received by the supporters.
Never was that demonstrated more than when he came on to rescue the points against Bournemouth last month. Everton had yet again been woeful for 60 minutes against the Cherries but Niasse’s two quick-fire goals turned the game on the head and sent the home fans berserk. It’s the only occasion this season where Goodison has been anything other than angry, which again doesn’t reflect very well on the current manager.
There’s not many players who can escape criticism following Everton’s ropey start to the season. Some have produced in patches, such as Wayne Rooney, others have simply been dreadful all season, like Morgan Schneiderlin. And while Honourable mentions go to Jordan Pickford and Nicola Vlasic, the one player who has consistently stood out from the rest is Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The 20-year-old has made rapid progress over the past six months and looks to be developing into the complete centre forward. He has shown he can play as the target man and hold the ball up – as demonstrated during the draw at Man City. He also has impressive technique and turn of pace, meaning he can operate out wide. And like all good strikers he can finish.
It would be unfair to pile too much pressure on his young shoulders, especially as that would be down the failings of seniors players elsewhere. But the England U21 international’s impressive performances so far mean he should be one of the first names on Koeman’s teamsheet.
A welcome glimmer of light in what otherwise has been a dour campaign to date.