Wayne Rooney was encouraged by what he saw from Derby County’s players in their pre-season friendly encounter against Manchester United on Sunday afternoon.
Derby’s first public pre-season friendly ahead of the 2021/22 season saw Rooney’s side welcome last season’s Premier League and UEFA Europa League runners-up to Pride Park Stadium.
The visitors ran out 2-1 winners with most of the players in the Rams’ starting line-up getting 60 minutes under their belts in the searing Derbyshire sunshine.
Tahith Chong scored the only goal of the first half as he found the net from close range after initially being denied by Derby goalkeeper Kelle Roos.
Facu Pellistri netted United’s second on the hour mark as he kept his cool to round Roos to slot into the empty net.
Striker Colin Kazim-Richards, who came off the bench at half-time in attack, pulled a goal back with 20 minutes left with a low effort from distance to haul Derby back into proceedings.
Isaac Hutchinson drilled a shot wide soon afterwards as the Rams pushed for a leveller and while they weren’t rewarded for their perseverance, Rooney felt there were a number of encouraging signs on display.
Speaking to RamsTV after the game, Rooney said: “We didn’t get the result, but I think it was a good competitive game for us.
“There is obviously fitness work that the lads would have taken out of it today, but on top of that there were some really positive moments that were pleasing for me.
“There are a few changes in how we want to play, but I think what pre-season is allowing me to do is to try and put my print on the team and get us playing a style of football which I want to play.
“There might be moments where we have to do things differently, but throughout this pre-season it is a chance for me to look at that and see how the players develop.”
The friendly was the next step in Derby’s preparations for the new season after spending this week at a training camp in Surrey.
The squad returned to training at the start of July and, with the new campaign getting started on Saturday 7th August against Huddersfield Town at Pride Park, Rooney knows there is plenty more work to get through between now and the big kick-off.
Rooney commented: “We are back at the training ground this week and will be working hard again.
“We have got another tough game in Salford City away, which will be a different challenge for us. We chose our pre-season friendlies carefully and we know the Manchester United and Real Betis ones will be something to look at on the ball and in terms of our shape off of it too.
“The Salford friendly could be one where we have more possession, so that will be more about how we deal with the ball.”
Derby welcomed a small number of supporters back to Pride Park Stadium for the first time since March 2020 for the match.
Although operating at a 25% stadium capacity under COVID-19 protocols, it was heartening to see the Rams’ supporters back in their spiritual home.
Ironically, the fans’ return came on the 24th anniversary of Pride Park Stadium’s official opening.
Rooney said: “It was brilliant to have the fans back. I drove in today with Liam Rosenior and I said to him on the way in how nice it was just to see fans around the stadium and walking in again.
“I thought the support was good and I am sure it will be even better, hopefully, for the Real Betis friendly later this month when we can have more fans in.
“For me and the players, it is only going to be a help for us having our fans with us. I thought there were some really good things out there today that we have been working on, so hopefully the fans will see that as well.”
Derby’s next friendly will see them head to Sky Bet League Two side Salford City next Saturday (3pm kick-off).