All eyes were on Manchester United's record goal-scorer but his first game back ended in another dispriting defeat for Everton.
Man United's win over Everton sees changing of the guard as Lukaku ruins Rooney's return
It felt a symbolic few minutes. Exit Wayne Rooney, to a standing ovation from the vast majority at Old Trafford. And then, in a sign of the changing of the guard, Romelu Lukaku illustrated why Manchester United no longer need their record scorer.
Lukaku had been more profligate than prolific in a reunion. That all changed. First the Belgian steered a pass into Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s path and the Armenian secured victory. Then Lukaku himself garnished it, bundling in a seventh goal in as many games for United from close range. Anthony Martial duly turned it into a third 4-0 win in five league matches.
- Ian Hawkey: Chelsea achieve unwanted treble against rugged Arsenal in gripping goalless draw
John McAuley on Sergio Aguero: The ultimate goal guarantor has earned 'legend' status at Manchester City
Richard Jolly at Anfield: Liverpool hurt by familiar failings as Klopp struggles to see positives in draw with Burnley
The numbers are rather less pleasing for Everton. They have lost their last four games by an aggregate score of 12-0.
“Sometimes in life and football you get more than you deserved. Today we got less,” said manager Ronald Koeman. “I wasn’t so impressed by United. That is maybe strange after a 4-0 defeat but they were really clinical and we didn’t deserve this.”
The masters in late goals again altered the outcome with a dramatic blitz. When Rooney departed with eight minutes remaining, he and Lukaku had endured similar afternoons. Each had missed a glaring chance. Both had been frustrated. The only difference was that, whereas Lukaku was booed by the visiting Evertonians, United’s former captain was applauded by the United faithful.
“At Old Trafford the reception for old players is normally phenomenal,” said Mourinho. Koeman praised his current charge for his performance. “Wayne was very good,” he said. “He was clever.”
Yet his golden opportunity came courtesy of a poor touch, a feature of his final years at Old Trafford. He ended up tackling Eric Bailly after he had failed to control the ball. The goal then gaped, but David de Gea flung himself in the path of the striker’s shot. He did likewise when Gylfi Sigurdsson had a chance to equalise.
“The goalkeeper saved United,” said Koeman. These clubs drew 1-1 twice last season; history could have repeated itself. Yet the balance of power between them shifted when Lukaku traded Merseyside for Manchester. United are on the up; Everton, who spent £145 million (Dh723.4m) in the summer, on the slide.
That enabled Mourinho to suggest they are under pressure to succeed. Koeman railed against the Portuguese’s rhetoric. “My colleague says Everton spent £140m and they need to go for the top four. Come on, be realistic,” he said.
And it is not about what they have gained as much as what they have lost, in Lukaku. Everton have still only scored two league goals this season. United managed twice as many in the space of 90 minutes. The first came from Antonio Valencia, connecting beautifully with a half-volley, meeting Nemanja Matic’s pass to give Jordan Pickford no chance. It was his first goal at Old Trafford for 44 months.
Then came Everton’s lone highlight. Lukaku skewed a shot wide when Michael Keane, yet another facing an old club, coughed up possession to Juan Mata. Lukaku, in a sign of United’s buoyancy, was undaunted. Mourinho was unworried.
“I was totally happy with him so no reason to lose any confidence,” he said. “He knows that there is no pressure for goalscoring from me.”
Lukaku struck anyway, leaving Everton seeking to regain their conviction.
“A win is the best medicine to grow your confidence,” Koeman said.