Five Things We Learned: Ružomberok

by Paul McNamara

Everton opened one of the most keenly anticipated seasons in the Club’s recent history with a 1-0 Europa League win over MFK Ružomberok on Thursday night.

Here we look at five talking points from a match settled by captain Leighton Baines’s second-half strike...

Davy’s alright

Ronald Koeman said Everton were signing a leader when he prised Davy Klaassen from Ajax’s grasp this summer.

And Koeman’s fellow Dutchman set the standard for his teammates against their Slovakian visitors. This was a dynamic, pugnacious performance from the debutant, who was playing in the final of this competition only two months ago.

The creativity and intelligence Koeman has singled out as two of Klaassen’s major attributes were both firmly in evidence, as the 24-year-old took the lead role in his team’s efforts to open up cussed opponents.

There were signs of a budding relationship with Wayne Rooney in a few of the pair’s interchanges, while Klaassen’s first-half raid into his opponents’ box – via exchanges with Rooney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin – showcased all the skill and adventure Everton will want from one of their key attackers this term.

And don’t overlook Klaassen’s willingness to do the ugly stuff – another trait which led Koeman to his door. The forward popped up covering at right-back in the first-half and was the nearest man to Milos Lacny, when the ball landed at the Ružomberok forward’s feet yards from the Blues’ goal, late in the contest.

Lacny sidefooted into Maarten Stekelenburg’s gloves and Everton were home and hosed, thanks in no small part to their all-action Holland international.

Switched-on Stekelenburg

A goalkeeper typically enjoys his best games when he has shots raining down on him from all angles. In such circumstances the man between the posts can slip into a groove – and is unlikely to let his mind wander.

It wasn’t that sort of night for Stekelenburg, but he was by no means unemployed. In short, then, it was exactly the type of match when the Dutchman needed to employ all of his experience to keep his mind on the job and step up to the plate when called upon.

He did just that. One first-half save from visiting midfielder Jozef Menich’s 25-yard hit was pretty routine. Stekelenburg’s fingertip stop from Jan Maslo’s close-range header on the hour, though, was rather special.

Moreover, it was an absolutely pivotal moment in the game, denying Ružomberok a crucial away goal and coming five minutes before Baines broke the deadlock.

Ronald’s team

When Everton hired Ronald Koeman last year they knew they were getting one of the continent’s foremost football figures.

A spectacularly decorated player and fiercely ambitious manager, Koeman was never likely to waste time stamping his mark on this team.

It stood to reason, then, that nine of the players who started the game were signed on Koeman’s watch, with Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas – both bought during David Moyes’s time in charge – the only exceptions.

Furthermore, second-half substitutes Sandro Ramirez and Ademola Lookman are Koeman recruits.

It all points to the manager working with players he likes – and vice-versa. Never a bad thing.

Ružomberok ahead of the game

The two great unknowns prior to the match boiled down to one issue.

How would the Blues fare having to play a competitive match so soon after returning from their summer holidays – and would their Slovak foes benefit from having been up and running since their first European game four weeks ago?

Unquestionably, and unsurprisingly, Everton were unable to attain the tempo in their play Koeman typically demands – the manager and a number of his players admitted as much post-match.

As for Ružomberok, it would do them a disservice to merely pigeonhole them as a rugged, game outfit.

Yes, they set out to frustrate, as expected. But Norbert Hrncar’s side came to Merseyside armed with a little more attacking intent than many pundits had anticipated.

That made them a dangerous animal, and Koeman will be grateful of the opportunity to work his players for another seven days before the return meeting.

Wayne is back

It would be remiss to put this match to bed without mention of Wayne Rooney. It was an occasion 13 years in the waiting for many Blues and, you sense, the player himself.

Rooney set all emotion aside, though, to concentrate on the job in hand, namely helping Everton safely negotiate the first step in what could be a prolonged European campaign.

Like his team-mates, the forward is still buried in the process of working towards peak fitness. Nevertheless, Rooney utilised his versatility to fine effect, initially delivering a combative display as the Blues’ central striker, before seamlessly slipping into a deeper role following the introduction of Sandro.

And there was that intuitive understanding with Klaassen, too.

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