Dominant Manchester United welcome Wayne home with rout
Manchester Utd 4 Everton 0
It was something of a nightmare return to The Theatre of Dreams for Wayne Rooney. He did not play badly - far from it; he was Everton's best performer - but after the warm reception there was the rout.
Rooney was substituted before Everton shipped the three late goals that did not only turn this defeat into a drubbing, but also dropped them down into the relegation places.
To add salt to that wound, the 31-year-old's replacement, Romelu Lukaku, cupped his ear to the Everton supporters as their former forward celebrated his goal, making it five in five Premier League matches for him since his £75 million-plus move, before later claiming it was "just a bit of banter".
The use of the cringe-worthy b-word was surely more offensive than the gesture.
To add to Rooney's angst, on the day before he makes an appearance at Stockport magistrates, charged with drink driving, he missed a crucial chance.
A chance he will have dreamt of. A chance in front of the Stretford End, where his name has resonated so often in the past 13 years, when the score was still just 1-0 and with Everton finally gaining some control, having been overwhelmed at times, during the first-half - when they appeared to lack hope, never mind ambition.
The ball broke to Rooney, from Tom Davies, but his close-range shot was blocked with his legs by United's outstanding goalkeeper David de Gea.
Would it have made a difference? Maybe. De Gea also saved well from Gylfi Sigurdsson and, late on, from substitute Sandro Ramirez, tipping over his long-range shot.
While Everton did not deserve to lose so emphatically, and while United did not play as well as they have done this season, the result, rather than the score, was certainly the correct one.
That score has added importance as it took United back to the top of the table along with Manchester City on goal difference - plus 14.
Only the alphabet defeated United, because Everton did not appear likely to do that.
They have not won in the league since the opening day and are winless in 12 league matches away from home for the first time in 13 years.
Worrying times for Everton, but less so for United. This is evolving quickly into a post-Rooney team with the focus on Lukaku - even more so in the absence of Paul Pogba, who has been ruled out for a number of weeks with a hamstring injury.
Rooney was afforded a respectful return.
"Welcome back number 10 Wayne Rooney," called the stadium announcer, and it provoked the right response, with United manager Jose Mourinho having declared that the former captain and record goal-scorer would receive the "love and respect" he deserves.
Within four minutes, though, Rooney was stung as Antonio Valencia scored the kind of goal his former team-mate used to strike to give United an early lead and deface Everton's game-plan.
Manager Ronald Koeman had set them up defensively - a three-at-the-back often becoming a five with two defensive midfielders - but they were undone when United's makeshift left-back, Ashley Young, shifted the ball infield to Nemanja Matic, who swept it across the front of the penalty area.
The ball took one bounce and sat up invitingly for Valencia to strike a wonderful half-volley that tore past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and high into net.
It was only Valencia's second goal since January 2014 for United and it was a cracker.
"We were ultra-dominant," Mourinho later claimed about the first-half and, in fact, it took a full 12 minutes for Everton to venture into United's half with any meaningful possession.
After that, Lukaku should have killed the contest when he was put clear by the impressive Juan Mata. Lukaku checked, to lose Ashley Williams, but then somehow steered his shot wide of the post.
But Everton survived as United became careless.
Suddenly Sigurdsson and Davies were more prominent and Rooney had some support, with Koeman throwing his hands in the air after those chances were not taken.
After that, his side were the victims of their own downfall.
First there was another reprieve, with Pickford's attempted clearance going straight to Mata, who was pushed over on the lip of the area by Williams.
Mata took the free-kick, bending it around the defensive wall only for the ball to come back off the near post before it was scrambled away for a corner.
The let-off was not heeded. And again Williams was badly at fault as his pass was intercepted by Marouane Fellaini, with the ball then running to Lukaku.
The Everton defenders, panicking, were sucked in and Lukaku smartly reversed the play to the unmarked Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who side-footed past Pickford.
Worryingly for Koeman, Everton, confidence shot as it is, then crumbled.
A free-kick was conceded with Lukaku firing it into the defensive wall - prompting jeers from the Everton fans.
Those cat-calls proved premature as the ball ran across to Matic, who wound himself up for a powerful low shot that ricocheted up and finally fell to Lukaku, who simply side-footed home from close-range before he ran off with his pointed celebration.
Would Lukaku score again?
United won a penalty with substitute Anthony Martial felled by Morgan Schneiderlin - who like a third former United player, Michael Keane, endured a difficult afternoon - but it was Martial rather than Lukaku who took it and calmly rolled the ball past Pickford, who guessed incorrectly and dived to his left.
Like much of Everton's performance, Pickford went the wrong way and United were dominating with Rooney looking on forlornly from the dug-out.
At least he was already off the pitch by then, with Koeman's assistant, and Rooney's former team-mate Duncan Ferguson, having told him the striker had given his all and needed to be replaced.
Which is why Jose Mourinho let him go and brought in Lukaku in the summer, of course. © Daily Telegraph, London.
Jose hails ‘phenomenal reception’ and predicts return for Rooney
Jose Mourinho has suggested that Wayne Rooney will return to Manchester United one day, having seen his former striker warmly received on his return to Old Trafford with Everton.
Rooney got a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 82nd minute after a hard-working performance.
Mourinho was pleased with the tributes paid to Rooney by the Old Trafford crowd and believes that United's all-time record scorer could yet play a part at the club again.
"It's the nature of English fans, it's the nature of big clubs when the player is big in the club and is an important part of the club history," he said of the ovation Rooney received.
"The reception was phenomenal. No surprise at all. He's at home and I believe that one day he will be back home," added the United manager.
Victory over Everton saw United go level with Manchester City at the top of the table. The two cannot be separated by points, goal difference, goals scored or goals conceded.
Mourinho and Guardiola enjoyed several tussles at the top of the league table during their respective spells at Real Madrid and Barcelona, but the Portuguese claimed that he took more interest in the results of rivals who failed to win this weekend.
"Today I didn't think one single second about Manchester City," he said. "I thought about Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. They didn't win their matches.
"It was a chance for us to get two extra points like they got last week when we drew with Stoke. City won their game and did their job. I was thinking about the others.
"When I saw their results I thought this was an opportunity we could not waste."
Mourinho dismissed reports that Paul Pogba could be unavailable for up to 12 weeks as "completely nonsense information".
Pogba suffered a hamstring injury in Manchester United's 3-0 Champions League victory over Basel last Tuesday night and left Old Trafford on crutches after the game.
A return date is yet to be confirmed for the midfielder but Mourinho has denied reports that he could be set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines as the club is awaiting further scan results.
"I don't know if it is 12 weeks or 12 days, honestly. Any comment, any rumour is totally wrong. We don't know if it's 12 weeks or 12 days.
Meanwhile, Ronald Koeman suggested that a top-four finish is not a realistic target for Everton, despite Mourinho suggestions to the contrary.
Mourinho claimed in his programme notes that Everton "wants to at least secure" Champions League qualification this season following a summer of hefty spending.
Koeman, however, called on their supporters and the media to revise expectations for the season ahead.
"I read the programme and my colleague said they are spending £140m and need to go for the top four.
"Sorry, be realistic. Let's talk at the end of the season," he said, without being prompted to speak about Mourinho's comments.
"I'm not happy with how we've started the season but, please, be a little bit realistic about Everton. That starts with everybody, fans, press. We need time, but it's difficult in football.
When asked what 'realistic' expectations for Everton would be, Koeman said: "The same as last season."
Everton finished seventh last time out, eight points adrift of the 'Big Six' clubs - Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and United.
Despite spending north of £140m on incoming players during the summer, Koeman did not rule out further forays into the market come January.
"We have Steve (Walsh, Everton's director of football) in the club for the long term," he said.
"Of course we like to improve in what we need. I am busy to turn around what happened in the moment. That is my priority." (© Independent News Service)