Bohemian rhapsodies were once the domain of Freddie Mercury — but Ronald Koeman was inspired enough by the quaint setting to talk up Everton’s chances of conquering Europe, writes Mike Walters in Ruzomberok.
After his £100million trolley dash, and the promise of more big-money signings, Everton manager Koeman’s first hurdle – before a ball has been kicked in the Premier League – is to make sure he doesn’t come a cropper in a 4,500-capacity potting shed in northern Slovakia.
If his Blues preserve a one-goal advantage from the first leg of this third qualifying round tie in the tiny Stadion Pod Cebratom here, Koeman can dream of taking the Europa League group stages by storm.
But if MFK Ruzomberok pull off a giant-killing on the biggest night in the town’s history, Big Ron will have to explain how owner Farhad Moshiri’s fortune – and £75m from the sale of Romelu Lukaku – barely took him past Calais.
If last week was all about Wayne Rooney’s homecoming in a blue shirt, this is all about the result.
And if Everton progress to the play-off round, as they should, Koeman believes he will be presiding over a squad equipped to challenge on four fronts – top four and domestic cups at home, plus Europe – by the time the transfer window shuts.
He said: “We had a very good season last year to get into Europe and we didn’t do that just to play two Europa League games.
“We like to compete in every tournament, including Europe, and if we can do all the business we would like to do before the end of August, I expect to be managing a very strong team – but it is still too early for me to reach those conclusions.
“What is really important for us is to come here and go through to the next round.”
Rooney has carried a minor injury this week, but the former England captain has travelled and shared a joke in training on Wednesday with coach and Goodison hero Duncan Ferguson.
Koeman said: “Wayne had some groin issues in the last few days, but he trained a normal session and he is fit to play here.
“Of course it was a great welcome back for Wayne last week but now it is really important, not only for Wayne but all the team, to be ready for tomorrow and to reach the group stages.”
Koeman has been giving serious consideration to playing three at the back, after Ruzomberok surprised Everton with their resilience and physical strength last week.
That could mean a recall for club captain Phil Jagielka, who has celebrated 10 years of service by signing a 12-month contract extension, keeping him at the club until June 2019.
Jagielka said: “It has been a fantastic time and hopefully we will create some more special memories in the next two years and I can look back on my time at Everton with a smile on my face.
“Realistically, winning a trophy is the aim this season – we want to be competing in four competitions and performing in every one.”
Koeman confirmed England Under-21 keeper Jordan Pickford, his most expensive summer signing at £30m from Sunderland, will make his competitive Everton debut here.
RUZOMBEROK Makic, J.Maslo, P.Maslo, Kruzliak, Kupec, Takac, Qose, Kochan, Daniel, Haskic, Gal-Andrezly.
EVERTON Pickford, Keane, Jagielka, Williams, Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Baines, Klaassen, Ramirez, Rooney.