It was a curtain-raising win for Everton in their first competitive fixture of the new season but not the victory they had wanted against Europa League rivals Ruzomberok of Slovakia.
They ended the match with a 1-0 lead to take into the second leg of the match and may feel that they have squandered the opportunity to run up a higher score at home at Goodison Park.
Below are five things learned from Everton 1-0 Ruzomberok.
1. Everton still need to sign a striker
It took the hosts 66 minutes to get the ball in the back of the net through a fortuitous deflection from a Leighton Baines shot from outside the area.
However, they had been the better side throughout the game and should have been in command of the fixture, and the tie, even before the left-back struck home. They shouldn’t have had to rely on a lucky touch off a defender to break the deadlock.
Unfortunately for the Toffees, while their build up play showed promise, they lacked a presence in attack without the departed Romelu Lukaku – and while the change in the dynamic within the front line may become less of an issue with time, right now they seemed to be lacking a proper centre-forward to lead the line.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin may be the answer for the future but he looks some way off becoming the solution his side need right now.
Everton will face far sterner tests than Ruzomberok this season. That they struggled to make their dominance pay off without a focal point up front should be a concern. Even if Olivier Giroud is unavailable, another striker is still needed.
2. Rooney and Klaassen are a fine double act
The night was all set up for the prodigal son to return home to Goodison Park in the first competitive game since his move back to Merseyside after 12 years with Manchester United and while Rooney didn’t break his duck against Ruzomberok, he did show signs of life, especially in his link up play with Davy Klaassen.
Rooney watch. ? pic.twitter.com/bG6Tt8uH9V
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) July 27, 2017
Both players seemed determined to get among their opponents and move into dangerous areas together, trading passes and runs to try and unpick the Slovakian defence and open up the final third. If they can develop this understanding into a telepathic double act, Everton could cause trouble with the right striker added into the mix.
3. A tricky away trip awaits in Slovakia
Everton will have hoped to take a greater advantage into the second leg away in Ruzomberok than a slender 1-0 lead but they did manage to keep a clean sheet to deny their foes a crucial away goal.
That won’t make the follow-up to their first meeting an easy task, however. In a Europa Leg tie, in unfamiliar and disorientating surroundings, anything can happen, and the visitors to Goodison Park were hardly short of chances of their own.
Of course, that may have been down to rustiness on the part of the home side. The Slovakian season is already underway. Everton cannot afford to be caught napping in Ruzomberok. By failing to find more goals they have put themselves under more pressure in the away leg.
4. Sandro Ramirez already adding the sparkle
Ronald Koeman builds hard-working, well-organised and resilient football teams, and in Sandro Ramirez he has a player who can that little bit extra on top of the Dutchman’s foundations to liven up the football Everton play, especially in the final third.
The Spaniard has already shown he can make an impact in pre-season, slinging a cross to find Rooney to score against Genk, and after arriving on the pitch in the second half his movement and determination to make something happen added a new dimension to his team’s play.
Had he taken the fall, he could have won a penalty in the last five minutes. The Spaniard’s trust in his own abilities and skill was admirable, even if there will have been some supporters at Goodison Park wishing he had gone down to help ensure their side were taking more than just a single goal margin back to Slovakia.
If he can stay fit he could be a very special player for Koeman and Everton this season in all competitions. Only Lionel Messi scored more goals from outside the box last season in La Liga and Sandro could be a ready-made match-winner, in the starting line-up or off the bench.
5. Everton can only get fitter – and better
Much has been made of the quantity of business done by the Toffees this summer, with more signings on the way. It remains to be seen how much extra quality has been added to the squad, but an opening night in the Europa League is not the time to judge.
Everton as a squad still appear to short of match fitness and sharpness. As has already been mentioned, Ruzomberok’s own season has already begun in Slovakia. With more time, and more games, Koeman’s side will begin to take shape. Until then, they will not be able to give a proper account of themselves.
No matter how many transfers a club makes, the players that arrive still need to be coached, integrated and worked on in order to prepare them for action. Proper assessments should be put on hold until they are ready.