Rooney the Devils' disciple keeps Everton in torment

EVERTON 0

MANCHESTER UNITED 2
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The Independent Football

Perhaps it was Everton's way of showing that, with a new season and a team improved by the proceeds of Rooney's transfer fee, they were ready to move on. However, it was not for them to decide. Superstars only leave centre stage on their own terms, and before the rest of the Premiership had even begun Rooney had given his former club, plus Chelsea, Arsenal and any potential World Cup rival a painful reminder that, in a crucial campaign for club and country, he is not to be ignored.

"He is starting to believe he is one of the best players in the world and now his performances are starting to justify it," said David Weir, the Everton captain, who first trained alongside Rooney while the striker was waiting to sit his GCSEs. "He was always quick but his appreciation of what is going on, where to go and how to cause you maximum problems have improved. We couldn't get near him.

"He is playing at the highest level every week and, it is frightening to say, but he will only get better."

Rooney accepted the burden of providing Sir Alex Ferguson with the three points and early Premiership lead he craved, as well as ensuring hostilities were renewed with the Goodison Park crowd. Gestures towards the Gwladys Street End were unnecessary and bizarre, given how members of his own family still sit there, as an assist, a goal and a captivating display that orchestrated the flow of United's entire performance were able to revive the anger on their own.

"If he was playing in goal or at centre-half he'd still be fantastic, he's a lucky boy" said David Moyes, the Everton manager, who must have wished for the defensive version of Rooney after Joseph Yobo's aberration ended any prospect of an Everton response to Ruud van Nistelrooy's 43nd-minute opener. The Nigerian international presented Rooney with the finest pass he has ever received from an Everton player 28 seconds after the restart, gifting the 19-year-old a first goal against his former club and United the platform upon which to stroll thereafter.

Everton won the corresponding fixture last season and while, until Van Nistelrooy converted John O'Shea's low cross at least, they afforded their visitors another demanding welcome, the response and result was everything the United manager could have wished for when he pencilled in 27 June as the indecent start to preparations for this season's title challenge.

"It's been a good, long pre-season and it was important we began by showing everyone what we are capable of," said Rooney. "It was important we started well."

Unlike the disrupted and damaging opening to last season, there are few excuses for a false start at United now, not with their £55m attack answering calls for more potency, and the solidarity Ferguson spoke of on Friday stifling the best Everton had to offer. Chants of "Rio, Rio", issued by the travelling supporters after the final whistle, only reinforced the sense of a new beginning. Edwin Van der Sar, with two instinctive saves from Tim Cahill headers, and Park Ji-Sung, with a versatility and awareness that bodes better than his finishing, enjoyed auspicious League debuts for United while, in opposition for the first time, Phil Neville looked an assured addition to the Everton ranks.

The home side were left nursing their second deflating defeat of the week, after losing to Villarreal in the Champions' League, and Moyes must ensure the confidence of last season survives the difficult entry into this. If he is able to conjure up a genuine goal threat before the transfer window closes, he will Everton are maybe destined to become the Premiership paradox; a far better team than last season with a lower finish.

Per Kroldrup, their £5m defender from Udinese, will undergo a groin operation tomorrow that will keep him out for six weeks, while James Beattie's inauspicious start continued when he limped out after only 20 minutes with a foot injury. For his predecessor in the Everton attack, there are no concerns at all.

Goals: Van Nistelrooy (43) 1-0; Rooney (46) 2-0.

Everton: (4-1-4-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Pistone; P Neville; Davies (Kilbane, 75), Cahill, Arteta, Osman (Ferguson, 63); Beattie (Bent, 20). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), McFadden.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Fletcher (Heinze, 71), Scholes (Smith, 81), Keane, Park (Richardson, 85); Rooney; Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Rossi.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Everton Arteta, P Neville, Pistone; Manchester United Scholes.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 38,610.

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