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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premier League
 Saturday 12 August 2017; 3:00pm
Everton 
1 0
 Stoke City
 Rooney (45'+1)
Half Time: 1 - 0
 
Attendance: 39,045
Fixture 1
Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Match Report

If the wisdom of Everton re-signing Wayne Rooney from Manchester United wasn’t universally accepted, the 31-year-old’s display over two legs in the Europa League tie with Ružomberok seemed to confirm the fears of the doubters that it wasn’t so much the Prodigal Son who had returned but the Prodigal Pensioner.

Rooney wasn’t alone in performing beneath himself on the European stage over the past few of weeks — the team as a whole were alarmingly disappointing against the Slovakian side — and if his contribution to this afternoon’s important Premier League opener is any indication of the season to come, then Messers Koeman and Walsh (and Kenwright, too, no doubt) will have been wholly vindicated in the decision to bring the Boyhood Blue home.

Rooney will have grabbed the headlines by scoring the winner against Stoke but it was the manner in which he dictated much of this contest, particularly in the second half, that was so pleasing to the Goodison faithful. Playing metronome to a side that had visibly settled once the manager had dispensed with a lopsided and, frankly, questionable formation, the Croxteth-born forward ran the show for Everton, spraying balls around at one end and chipping in with vital defensive interventions from set-pieces at the other.

His celebration following the only goal in first-half stoppage time was also a wondrous sight; the joy of scoring for Everton has not been diminished by 13 years away in Manchester with United.

That strike, a composed header back across Jack Butland from Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s sumptuous cross at the end of the best move of the match, was also the highlight of an otherwise abysmal first period. With Koeman determined to find a way of playing a three-man central defensive unit, Calvert-Lewin was deployed in an advanced wingback role, one that saw Idrissa Gueye occasionally dropping off to the touchline to cover his advances forward.

It was a role to which the young striker looked wholly unsuited and, thankfully, he was relieved of it for the second half when Cuco Martina came on in place of Ashley Williams and Koeman reverted to a more conventional back four.

Prior to that and the goal it was mind-numbing fare. Everton had almost no penetration for the first 12 minutes at which point the industrious Sandro found himself with space in front him but dragged a shot well wide of goal.

Good work by Gueye, again one of the standout performers for the Blues, then provided him with a shooting opportunity but it merely forced a routine save from the goalkeeper while his next effort following a corner bounced off target.

Overall, the tactics were puzzling, with a succession of floated balls to the flank aimed at Calvert-Lewin more often that not missing their target. Even the set-pieces were odd; Rooney and Sandro insisted on taking corners short, depriving the team of strikers to pick up the pieces in the box.

Stoke, looking every inch a Potters side with plenty of height sprinkled with flashes of limited end product from the likes of Bojan Krkic and Xerdan Shaqiri, offered even less threat in the first half. The former was the only one to remotely threaten Jordan Pickford’s goal when his attempted cross flew narrowly over his crossbar.

The visitors had a brief flurry immediately after the restart but Everton soon established control of proceedings and Calvert-Lewin, now playing up top in a three, had two chances to double the lead. First, he ignored the better placed Sandro and saw his eventual shot blocked; then, he seized on a slip by the otherwise impressive Kurt Zouma but was foiled at the near post by Butland.

In between, Stoke went close when Darren Fletcher arrowed a shot from the edge of the box that flashed just wide but for the most part Hughes’s attack was well marshalled by the unflappable Michael Keane alongside the typically solid Phil Jagielka.

Morgan Schneiderlin may have had another off day to go with those iffy evenings in the Europa League and Davy Klaassen struggled to make an impact (his role in the goal where he drew defenders away to leave Rooney unmarked might get overlooked) but Gueye was excellent. And Tom Davies, the unfortunate one to drop to the bench, showed how difficult Koeman’s midfield team selection will be when he came on for Klaassen after an hour to put in another accomplished display.

Despite their hugely improved second-half showing, Everton were still forced to endure a somewhat nervy last 10 minutes as Hughes threw on Peter Crouch and Stoke lumped more and more balls into the home area hoping for something to fall their way.

It was from the more cultured foot of Shaqiri that they almost grabbed a point at the death. The Swiss picked the ball up in central midfield following a corner, advanced into space outside the box and unloaded from 25 yards with a shot that was searching out the far corner.

Pickford, whose only real involvement up to that point had been to display some pleasing command of his area with decisive decision-making and action, was equal to it, however, diving to his left to turn the ball behind his post. It was a match-winning save from the young England U21 ’keeper and the first return on the massive transfer fee that brought him to Merseyside from Sunderland.

Overall, while there was plenty to ponder from that first half, it was encouraging that the Blues grew stronger after the break and that Rooney was spurred on by his goal to employ all of his experience and savvy to help control the contest after half-time.

Koeman acknowledged afterwards that the wingback idea hadn’t worked as he had expected while also admitting that his team needs to improve significantly if it is to achieve its aims this season.

He and Steve Walsh will also have to keep busy into the deadline finding recruits to fill the obvious gaps in the team, not least another seasoned striker who can hold the ball up and provide a physical presence up front. That, another creative outlet, an end to the Gylfi Sigurdsson saga and the defensive addition he is looking to sign and Everton should be in fine fettle for the rest of the season.

Lyndon Lloyd

Matchday Updates

A really difficult game against very spirited visitors saw Everton make hard going of it in the first half until a move of pure quality was finished by a perfect Wayne Rooney header.

And Koeman picks his new players to start, with Sandro and Rooney upfront alongside Calvert-Lewin. Tom Davies awaits on the bench.

The Blues season kicked off in bright sunshine, but not exactly a flowing start. A little bit of aggression on Fletcher saw Rooney give away the first free-kick and Everton did not really get forward in the first 5 minutes. Pickford kept trying to hit Calvert-Lewin wide right with his clearances but it was mostly going out of play.

Stoke were far more direct with their movement getting around the back and winning a corner that Rooney defended away. but the Blues were still stalled pretty much in their half after 10 minutes until Rooney finally put Butland under pressure and Sandro had a chance but screwed it well wide.

Some desperate blocks needed in the Blues defence, Everton suffering a very effective pressing game from Mark Hughes's charges, denying them space and time, causing repeated turnovers and giveaways. Eventually, space opened for Gueye but his shot was hardly threatening.

Keane finally got forward and crossed, very deep, Sandro winning a corner that fell to Gueye but his shot could not have been more awful. The patient Goodison crowd would clearly need a lot more patience... Some really poor passing the parcel at the back saw Jagielka play he ball into touch. Some lively tackling brightened things a little but half-an-hour in and things were looking far from inspiring.

Allen dragged back Rooney for the first yellow card, but nothing came of the set-piece. Gueye was fouled, giving Rooney a chance for a deep free kick that was wellied horribly long... shockingly poor from him, the Stoke attack leading to another corner that Rooney again got his head to.

The absolute dearth of ideas when going forward from the back was dreadful at times, with little movement and the ball far too easily squandered with nothing really shaped in attack, Sandro struggling to make any impact.

Another long ball saw Calvert-Lewin further forward and coming inside, he won a corner but Sandro and Rooney doing the short thing to no avail. More scrappy play in the Everton half saw another corner for Stoke, successfully rebuffed.

An absolutely dreadful half finished in total contrast with the most wonderful move from deep, a brilliant cross from Calvert-Lewin and a simple-looking but perfectly executed header from Rooney past Butland... Goodison finally erupted!

Koeman decided to switch whatever formation he had been playing, replacing Williams with Martina after the break, as Stoke got into their inimitable pressing closing harrying style.

Calvert-Lewin got more central and forced a corner that Jagielka helped on but no-one picked it up. At the other end Shaqiri beat three men but Keane was there to head away his cross. The game opened up a little, Rooney playing in Calvert-Lewin but Zouma was in quickly to block his one-on-one chance.

Some brighter stuff, Rooney with a great ball picking out Baines, but the perfect cutback to Klaassen was bizarrely wasted. Stake were tenacious in the quest of a goal, Fletcher lashing one a foot wide of Pickford's goal, as Tom Davies replaced the hugely disappointing Klaassen on the hour.

Martina put in an excellent cross for Calvert-Lewin who headed wide under pressure. But the Blues showed more intent going forward, Calvert-Lewin coming in on the left of the area this time but Sandro unable to help him out. But Everton were now passing the ball better, finally drawing some chants from the crowd.

Schneiderlin was lucky not to be booked for a lazy trip, Pickford alert to snap up the ball. More crisp passing around the Stoke area saw Rooney denied, but the ball kept going forward and Calvert-Lewin did brilliantly to cut in and lash the ball forcing a parry from Butland and a corner, very deep from Rooney, Martina crossing and Keane heading it back but somehow no-one there to convert.

The game was now more open with Crouch on and causing trouble in the Everton area; Sandro replaced by Mirallas as Stoke kept probing, the Blues perhaps having missed their chance to make the game safe, and having to put in some good defending with 10 minutes left.

Nervy moments in the Everton area were calmed when possible by the commanding presence of Jordan Pickford as Stoke sought to spoil the party late on. Everton under some serious pressure at times but pleased to see Rooney still driving them forward as and when he could. And right at the end, a fantastic strike form Shaqiri was batted away superbly by Pickford, a certain goal against most shot-stoppers.

Scorer: Rooney (45')

Everton: Pickford, Keane, Jagielka, Williams (46' Martina [Y:85']), Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Klaassen (60' Davies), Calvert-Lewin, Ramírez (77' Mirallas), Rooney.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Besic, Holgate, Lookman.

Stoke City: Butland, Zouma, Shawcross, Cameron, Diouf, Fletcher, Allen [Y:29'], Pieters, Shaqiri, Bojan (72' Choupo-Moting), Berahino (71' Crouch).
Subs: Grant; Johnson, Tymon, Adam, Ramadan.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Michael Kenrick

From My Seat: Stoke City (H)

At last it is here, the first day of another season where fans are full of expectation and somewhat wild predictions. Still it’s good to dream and with a host of new signings and more to come, or so we think, we are more than ready to live the dream both at home and abroad.

We entered our temple of learning and headed into the room of nonsense where many a would be manager or coach would be busy sharing their idea of line–ups and formations and fair do’s most got it right except for one player which was revealed at the moment when all heads go down to stare at their palms and see the electronic device reveal the teams. Calvert-Lewin at right wing back!!

Now that just didn’t look right and a good discussion followed and most agreed that unless it was to be some new to us formation then we were likely to be unbalanced and unsure leading to that horrible bit where no one knows who’s doing what and ending up doing nothing.

Our lovable cousins were on the screens playing Watford and a few in red shirts in attendance amongst a shed full of Blues and you could tell by the roars and boos as to who had scored. Into injury time and the boo’s led 3-2 but in time added on a mighty roar went up and red shirts were noted doing one and were met by a most raucous wall of noise extracting the urine.

The rain had stopped in time for a most pleasant walk up until one of the lads saw a notification on his phone telling fans to get to the ground early as there was a problem with season cards working properly. Well by now it was too late to be early so we plodded on anyway. All the usual out lets were there and the fat van was out doing the Blue Dragon, the fan zone seemed popular and Goodison Road was heaving with fans. Again the Liverpool mounted police had been and left a road full of clues behind. We got to our turn-style and it worked and there to greet us was a steward handing out fixture lists. On to our seats and an excellent time for z-cars. The players got a grand roar as their names were read out but our prodigal son (remember the name?) got an extra special one.

We kicked off and for some ten minutes or so we did reasonable well in terms of building attacks but penetration was not yet on the menu. Sandro showed a piece of quicksilver but scuffed his shot wide now from there the game went a tad downhill. The best you could say for both teams was that their effort was not in any way complimentary to their lack of any cohesion, craft, guile or the excitement of a narrow miss.

Gana hit a hard drive from some 15yds that flicked off Rooney who took just enough pace off the ball for Butland to grab it with some ease. It seemed to me that we were right as we looked all over the place with this type of three at the back with a centre forward as the right wing back. As an example of the problem when the lad did bomb on he was none too keen to bomb back again as moves broke down and Stoke didn’t take long to work it out and target his side. This led to Gana trying to fill in or failing that the right centre back going over to cover which was leaving a visible hole in the middle of our defence which in turn led to some unnecessary hairy moments for players and fans alike. To me the system is fine but it must be with the right personnel to operate it and sadly we don’t have that to date. Around me we were all agreed he had to change the tactics as these were not working and should not have been used in the first place. Having said that it should be noted that Stoke had been kept away from our goal and not one shot on target all half however Bojan had hearts in moth when he cut in and floated one just over our bar but that was about it.

The half went on in much the same fashion leaving little to report and I wished for the half-time whistle so the manager could consider a plan B. Just as the fourth official showed one added minute the move of the game took place when Rooney played a short pass to Gana and Klaassen made a dummy run taking a couple of defenders with him and Gana fed Calvert-Lewin who took the ball in his stride looked up and put in a pinpoint cross the like of which Thomas, Sheedy or Hinchcliffe used to do and Rooney had made up the yards to be able to take advantage of such a cross and in true top marksman fashion flexed the neck muscles and back from where the ball had come leaving Butland flat footed and the ball nestling in the corner of the park end net, ROONEY-ROONEY-ROONEY was the deafening cry amongst the mayhem. My mind went back some 15 years when I witnessed his debut goal v Arsenal and now I have just watched his debut goal to celebrate his second coming.

Half-time: 1-0

The first half had been disappointing but that move and goal had somehow mellowed us and instead of ranting we all agreed a change in line up and tactics was called for. I must say that although DCL was in the firing line it certainly was not his fault he had it thrust upon him. I believe that lad has got a good future in the game. He just has that something about him that says ‘class act’ in waiting.

Second half and Ron had listened to us!! Williams who had not shown his best form first half was swapped for Martina allowing DCL to go upfront and from the kick off we looked better as passes got sweeter causing some joined up stuff to break out from time to time. Mark Hughes had sorted his side out in the break and they came out full of endeavour but we looked a better all-round team now and Rooney was pulling the strings and was always on hand to receive the ball and move the Stoke defence about.

Stoke built up a head of steam and were looking a bit dangerous so our manager took off Klassen and sent on Tom Davies. A good decision I thought as Klassen seemed spent as he comes to terms with the frenetic style of the EPL. Tom soon got into his favoured midfield roll and Stoke were now not as potent and as the half went all of Rooney’s on the job coaching and giving practical demonstrations on how to keep a cool head and play joined up footy whilst looking for openings we did improve a little but not enough for us fans to make any rash predictions about top whatever finishes. The half went on and still Stoke had not created one on target But Fletcher did give us a mighty scare when he drilled a daisy cutter with some venom no more than two feet wide. For us the best chance of the half was when DCL robbed Zouma near the box and strode on as fans got out of seats in expectation but alas his effort only found the torso of the prone Butland and ricocheted clear.

As the clock ticked ever nearer to the final whistle Stoke played their joker and Crouched was introduced and for about eight or ten minutes caused some mayhem and panic in our box as Stoke pounded in high crosses in the hope one would bounce off him and the second ball would be theirs. We defended manfully but Crouch won his fair share even against the excellent buy Keane. Strangely I noticed that the best marker for thwarting Crouch was not another tall defender but the smallest player on the pitch --- Baines. Three times I noted as the high ball came to Crouch Baines got right in the small of his back and as they jumped crouch was just way off balance and danger thwarted.

Into stoppage time and many thinking ah-well a win is a win Shaqiri set off on a run right into the heart of our defence and unleashed a shot of some venom when the man in black Mr Pickford took to the air and in spectacular fashion turned the venomous shot around his post for a corner that came to nought Crouch or no Crouch. My mind went to that theory that a top class keeper can gain you points as well as a top class striker. The final whistle went with us attacking and Goodison generously applauded a first day win whilst realising that we are far from the finished article and are most eagerly awaiting any incomings of quality players before that window closes.

MotM: Rooney

All-in-all, a good day out and now we can turn our minds to Thursday when off we go again. A trip to the room of nonsense to consider our line-up and tactics and when the official list comes through we will dissect that as well. Hell you would think we knew something about footy. A chippy tea then off to the old lady and watch what actually happens. For my part I would love a three goal lead to take to the land of Pivo.

See you there

UP THE BLUES

Ken Buckley

Welcome home, Wayne

The first day of the league season is always filled with excitement and you just can’t beat a home game on a, somewhat, warm afternoon at Goodison Park to kick things off. At breakfast Uwe, my father-in-law visiting from Germany, was particularly excited to be coming along, especially so, to see a certain Wayne Rooney in an Everton shirt. That’s the pull Wayne’s return brings to many.

With Gaz unable to make this one I drove, picking up Ste en-route. Uwe wanted to visit the club shop to pick up a few little mementos so we dropped him off there before parking up. We’d originally planned to have a few drinks at The Medlock Hotel but a few Dutch Evertonians who we befriended in Genk this pre-season got in touch to tell me they were over and having a drink in The Winslow Hotel so once we re-convened with Uwe we instead joined them guys. It was nice to catch up with RIk and Stephen who had flown in from Amsterdam just that morning.

As we arrived at the pub we were expectant of the Watford vs Liverpool game being on the TV but they didn’t have Sky Sports in there. With Liverpool losing 2-1 at the time that was a shame. The 93rd minute equaliser for Watford would have brought the house down.

We’d seen the team news in the pub and were pretty baffled by what we saw. Dominic Calvert-Lewin may be a lot of things but a right wing back he isn’t, the need for a target man apparent even before we took to the field. We moved on to the Lower Gwladys a little earlier than usual and were there in plenty of time, engulfed by a large Leighton Baines banner tribute as we took to our seats, this to celebrate Leighton Baines 10th year at Goodison Park, and he is still one of our best performers.

The atmosphere was bubbling as the game got under way. Everton attacking towards the Park End in the first half. We did appear pretty shapeless in our approach and it was quite the struggle. Darren Fletcher was having a busy game in Stoke CIty’s midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri was causing problems for our ropey three man defence. Poor Dominic Calvert-Lewin at right wing back had little-to-no-chance of expressing himself. Further up the pitch Davy Klaassen struggled to get involved as did Sandro Ramirez despite his efforts. Morgan Schneiderlin and particularly Idrissa Gana Gueye did very well to protect our defence. Leighton Baines was class in the first half. Head and shoulders above most in our team, probably all in fact other than Wayne Rooney.

Ste and I were bemoaning how badly our system had failed as we crept into first half stoppage time. We were saying we had to ditch a centre-back and go 4-4-2, or 4-5-1, or however you want to call it. We needed a flat back four and some width. Just as we said that, good work by Sandro Ramirez helped Dominic Calvert-Lewin find space out wide. He put in an excellent ball which Wayne Rooney got to. As the crowd held its breath, Rooney used all his experience to head the ball back across Jack Butland to bury it into the Park End net. A very intelligent header from one of our brighter players in the first half. Ste and I bear-hugged. It was a magical moment and despite a pretty rancid first half effort, we found ourselves a goal ahead at the break.

With us finishing the half in front I expected Ronald Koeman to leave things as they were, however I was relieved he still decided to change it by removing Ashley Williams and bringing on a right back in Cuco Martin. This allowed us to play with some width and the second half was much, much improved. That’s one good thing about Koeman. He is wiling to accept when his plan isn’t working and will react quickly. Wayne Rooney was fabulous. He has such a technical footballing brain and sees things which others don’t see. Some of the balls he put through in the second half were genius and with perhaps more composure ahead of him we may have scored more than the one.

That said, the Peter Croucb induced cavalry charge ensured it was a bit backs to the wall as we edged towards the full time whistle and it was a great defensive effort that got us over the line. Jordan Pickford looks to be an inspired signing and could be a great goalkeeper for us for a long, long time. He commands his box and bravely deals with everything he has to. One of the big moments of the game was the super save he made from a long range Xherdan Shaqiri attempt. From the Gwladys Street we at first thought it had sailed wide, and didn’t realise he had saved it until the loud applause from the Park End. On the replay you could see what a great save it was. Wayne Rooney’s canny experience up top also helped us get through the final few minutes.

Stoke City will feel unlucky to have lost the game which they were in throughout. With the fixtures upcoming however, I am simply relieved to be coming away with the three points, our first opening day win for five years - we have drawn all of our last four opening fixtures.

It’s good to get off to a flyer, and the day belonged to one certain Scouser.

Welcome home, Wayne.

Player ratings:

Pickford: In the second half in particular, he was fantastic. It’s been a problem position for a couple of seasons and hopefully that’s been addressed for some time now. A great keeper. 8

Baines: He was fabulous and still seems as fit as a fiddle. 10 years at Everton now for Leighton Baines, let’s hope he can cap it with a trophy this season. 8

Jagielka: His distribution was woeful throughout, but the most important aspect of a defender is just that - being able to defend and he can sure do that. 6

Keane: Google “towering centre back” and Michael Keane will probably be your first result. Similarly to Pickford, he could be a key part of our defence for many a year. I read on his Twitter that he lost a tooth in the first half and carried on. Brave fella! 7

Williams: I’m glad he was the centre-half that was hooked. He’s had a few decent games but I think it’s fair to say the jury is still out on him amongst the supporters. He’s never fully convinced me really and never quite seems wiling to put his body on the line for the team. I guess he’d probably be useful given the gruelling season ahead should we make the Europa League, but if we have to sigbn Gylfi Sigurdsson, would he be a useful make-weight in the deal? 5

Calvert-Lewin: Was completely wasted out at right-wing back and I felt sorry for him out there, but was pleased for him that he was able to influence the game from there and supply the cross for the goal. He was better in the second half when moved up front. He did well to harry Kurt Zouma into a mistake and force a great save from Jack Butland. Otherwise I think he needs to gather some composure in the penalty area. On a few occasions he seemed to be caught in two minds whether to pass or shoot. I don’t like criticising young players in particular but Stuart “Jigsaw” Barlow comes to mind at times. He’s young though. Plenty of time to learn. 6

Gueye: Carried on where he left off. Sharp in the tackle and a formidable opponent. 7

Schneiderlin: Didn’t do anything wrong as such but I felt he is capable of more. 6

Klaassen: As the Dutch lads told me, he might need a fair bit of time. He struggled to get into the game in any aspect really. Will be interesting to see how he progresses. Was substituted after an hour. 5

Ramirez: Showed a lot of movement without really seeing much of the ball, though did provide a touch of class with a neat turn before laying the ball off to Dominic Calvert-Lewin to produce Rooney’s goal. LIke Klaassen, needs time. Not a bad start, but hardly spectacular either. 6

Rooney: The script was written and Rooney didn’t disappoint with his role in the fairytale return. A great winning header marking his comeback. His intelligent and incisive forward passing was also brilliant in the second half, as was his know-how to kill the game, drawing fouls and winning us free kicks to buy us time as we sought to see the game out. I don’t think we’ve had anyone with that ability to win us free kicks since Mikel Arteta And Steven Pienaar. If we can get a good target man in to play off, we will get a lot out of Rooney I’m certain. My Man of the Match. 8

Martina (for Williams): I’m a bit baffled by Cuco Martina. He makes good runs out of defence to find himself in a good position for a pass, but then when he gets it he seems to not want the ball and struggles with his decision making and often then loses possession. Still, he tries. I know he’s already a bit of a whipping boy, mainly because he’s getting opportunities over Jonjo Kenny but I thought he did alright today, and facing a team with age and experience, getting an experienced head on the pitch to fill the right back void for the second half was a good idea. 6

Davies (for Klaassen): Ronald Koeman has to find a way to accommodate him into the team because he offers so much. At his age it isn’t a bad thing to pull him out of games either, but I hope our influx of signings doesn’t cost him his place. He has to stay in and around the team. As ever he was a joy to watch once he got onto the pitch. 6

Mirallas (for Ramirez): Kept himself busy and got involved. 6

Paul Traill

Match Preview

A new season rolls around and Everton begin another quest to break into the top four as Ronald Koeman embarks on his second season in charge at Goodison Park.

In the context of the Dutchman's initial three-year project with the Blues, he comes into 2017-18 with what is arguably a stronger squad in all departments except in the areas that could really make the difference this time around.

Romelu Lukaku, the man on whom Everton were hugely reliant for goals has left for Manchester United but despite making a £62m profit on the Belgian, the club have yet to sign his replacement.

Sandro Ramirez, an exciting but untried entity, is the kind of signing Evertonians would have wanted to see drafted in to replace Enner Valencia; in terms of the focal point of the attack — even more so if Gylfi Sigurdsson ever becomes an Everton player — supporters are waiting to see who is identified to partner the Spaniard in a new-look attack.

In terms of the season opener against Stoke, such concerns will have to be put on the back burner because Koeman will be going with what he had for the two Europa League games against Ružomberok when it comes to team selection.

Along with long-term absentees Ramiro Funes Mori, Yannick Bolasie and Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley and James McCarthy are out of contention but other than that it is “as you were” in Slovakia where the Blues did enough to advance to the play-off round where they will meet Hajduk Split.

Both legs against Ružomberok were underwhelming to say the least but the friendly curtain-raiser against Sevilla last Sunday offered more encouragement for Blues fans searching for evidence that the team can improve on last season's seventh-place finish. Sandro notching a quick goal in front of his new home faithful was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the game, his composed finish hopefully indicative of what he can bring to the team this term.

Equally encouraging has been the form of Michael Keane in pre-season and in Europe, together with the promising early glimpses of Jordan Pickford. Together with Davy Klaassen, who has the potential to be a significant addition to midfield, at around £80m the English duo represent the vast majority of Everton's summer expenditure and form a new long-term spine to the team.

All three should make their Premier League debuts for the Blues against Stoke, with Sandro joining them at the spearhead of a team that should also feature Wayne Rooney.

Koeman will have decisions to make at right-back, centre-half and up front, though. Assuming that the manager doesn't opt for a back three (unlikely given how unsuccessful it was in Slovakia) and that Jonjoe Kenny isn't deemed ready to start — had he done so against Sevilla and played, he would be in with a shout — it will be a straight choice between Mason Holgate and Cuco Martina for the role.

In the centre, it's likely that either Phil Jagielka or Ashley Williams will get the nod to partner Keane while further forward, it could be between Kevin Mirallas and Dominic Calvert-Lewin if Koeman deploys a forward three. The competition in central midfield, meanwhile, might mean Tom Davies is edged out, a situation that underscores just how strong the Blues are in that area of the pitch.

For their part, Stoke have made modest moves in the market, with the loan acquisition of Kurt Zouma from Chelsea arguably Mark Hughes's best move of the summer so far. The 22-year-old will further beef up what is always a robust Potters back line in much the same way as 6' 3” tall striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will add strength and physical presence at the other end of the pitch in the wake of Jonathan Walters' departure for Burnley. Darren Fletcher will add experience and solidity in midfield but Stoke are unlikely to be pulling up many trees in the Premier League this season.

They remain a tough proposition, however, and Everton won't be expecting any easier a task than the one they had against Hughes's men almost a year ago when a solitary goal, an own goal by Shay Given at that, handed Koeman his first home league win as the Toffees' boss.

Everton will need to call on the formidable strength they displayed on home turf from the start of 2017 on last season while hopefully demonstrating the benefits of a further 10 days' pre-season preparation since the second leg in the Europa League.

While the management and recruitment team lines up their final targets of the window to put a more complete complexion on the close season's business, this first game of the new campaign is all about the result. That is particularly true given the brutal run of four games that follows against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United before the relative comfort of a home game against Bournemouth towards the end of next month. A good start could be huge, psychologically speaking.

Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 12 August, 2017
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Last Time: Everton 1-0 Stoke City

Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Klaassen, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin, Sandro

Lyndon Lloyd

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Match Reports
2017-18 Reports Index
« Ruz'berok (A) Man City (A) »
 Match reports
 Lyndon Lloyd Report
Ken Buckley Report
 Paul Traill Report
EVERTON
  Pickford
  Keane
  Williams (Martina 46' )
  Jagielka
  Baines
  Calvert-Lewin
  Schneiderlin
  Gueye
  Klaassen (Davies 60')
  Rooney
  Sandro (Mirallas 77')
  Subs not used
  Stekelenburg
  Holgate
  Besic
  Lookman
  Unavailable
  Barkley (injured)
  Barry (injured)
  Bolasie (injured)
  Coleman (injured)
  McCarthy (injured)
  Tarashaj (injured)
  Browning (loan)
  Dowell (loan)
  Galloway (loan)
  Onyekuru (loan)
  Pennington (loan)
  J. Williams (loan)
STOKE CITY
  Butland
  Zouma
  Shawcross
  Cameron
  Pieters
  Allen
  Fletcher
  Diouf
  Krkic (Choupo-Motiung 72')
  Shaqiri
  Berahino (Crouch 72')
  Subs not used
  Grant
  Tymon
  Adam
  Sobhi
  Johnson

Match Stats

Possession
62%
38%
Shots
9
9
Shots on target
4
1
Corners
6
7

Premier League Scores
Friday
Arsenal 4 - 3 Leicester
Saturday
Brighton 0-2 Man City
Chelsea 2-3 Burnley
C Palace 0-3 Huddersfield
Everton 1-0 Stoke City
Southampton 0-0 Swansea
Watford 3-3 Liverpool
West Brom 1-0 Bournemouth
Sunday
Man United 4-0 West Ham
Newcastle 0-2 Tottenham


Team Pts
1 Manchester United 3
2 Huddersfield Town 3
3 Manchester City 3
3 Tottenham Hotspur 3
5 Arsenal 3
6 Burnley 3
7 Everton 3
7 West Bromwich Albion 3
9 Liverpool 1
9 Watford 1
11 Southampton 1
11 Swansea City 1
13 Leicester City 0
14 Chelsea 0
15 AFC Bournemouth 0
15 Stoke City 0
17 Newcastle United 0
17 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
19 Crystal Palace 0
20 West Ham United 0

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