Manchester United’s main problem lies in the shelter, where their manager is constantly under-coach


You can learn a lot by watching the dugout, or at least it’s tempting to assume you can.

Our access to the inner workings of a football club is so limited that we are always looking for hidden meanings, straining our eyes as we look through the keyhole.

It may lead to wild extrapolations or a little confirmation bias, but watching Manchester United draw a 1-1 draw with Everton at Old Trafford, eyes continued to drift into the empty space in the technical area. of the local team.

Perhaps the analysis of a manager’s behavior on the sideline is unsuccessful; maybe flapping doesn’t mean anything.

Or maybe there is something about the great tacticians of our time worrying and bragging about, shouting instructions with an urgency that suggests their left rear being out of position by a few millimeters will cause them to tip over. land poles.

Perhaps there is some useful information to be gleaned from Pep Guardiola hitting every ball or from Thomas Tuchel inviting an army of assistants to crowd around a tactical dossier.

United from Solskjaer again with no idea

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did not come out from behind the low brick wall until the final stages of the game.

For 80 minutes, while Rafael Benitez paced his canoe and gave detailed instructions (swapping Tom Davies and Abdoulaye Doucoure with a frantic scissor movement; sincerely imploring Andros Townsend, with an arm around his shoulder, to step back), Kieran McKenna cut off as the figure stood towards the back of the technical area, arms tight to his chest, without saying a word.

United were moody and frustrating, swinging between episodes of booming attacking football – led by Bruno Fernandes, pulling strings to feed Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood to the sides – and a floating meh staccato.

None of this is new. Everyone is familiar with the exercise now. United’s tactical analysis of the plan, or the lack of it, is starting to touch the general public and as it does, we find ourselves seeing everything through that lens; attracted by absence, by the empty space where a manager should be.

Is Ronaldo’s influence negative for United?

Very little about United’s performance on Saturday afternoon departed from the usual script, the only difference this time around being the way Cristiano Ronaldo influences.

Much has been said about its aura, how the supernova can attract too much light, can distort physics in its orbit, and here is the first example of that possibility.

At Juventus, standards fell as players subconsciously began searching for Ronaldo to save them, taking their foot off the accelerator while awaiting his winning impact.

Rather, the problem on Saturday was with the energy rolling and chirping around Old Trafford in the presence of Ronaldo.

The game was going relatively well at 1-0 in the second half when CR7 kicked in, coming off the bench to enthusiastic applause.

Ronaldo stepped in – and the game exploded. United fans have gone mad, Everton fans have gone mad, and both teams have fallen into a kind of madness, the challenges fly and the game freaks out until Fred makes a Fred-style mistake. and United concede a counterattack goal to United. .

We expected Ronaldo to spill over into Man Utd football. We did not expect him to raise opposition as well.

The tactical angle would postulate that his lack of pressing, and flank drift, disrupted the pace Edinson Cavani had set, allowing Everton to counter-attack more brutally thanks to the excellent Demarai Gray – who slipped and slalomed, confusing everyone as a winger. play upstream.

This is true to some extent, but being inside Old Trafford, you could feel it was more psychological than that; the football equivalent of the vertigo that shakes the crowd when a celebrity walks into the room.

Should United have signed a midfielder instead of Ronaldo?

It’s too early to tell if Ronaldo’s signing was a mistake, but as many pointed out at the time, it was certainly a curious decision to prioritize a new striker over a midfielder. central.

The McFred the partnership continues to infuriate and half of it was appalling here, with the Brazilian giving the ball into dangerous areas on several occasions before his mistake ultimately led to Everton’s equalizer.

Fred’s faults were all the more glaring next to Doucoure, undoubtedly the man of the match of the match.

Here in blue was what Manchester United were asking for, a sweeping and tackling and bursting and gazing midfielder with that rare fusion of technicality and physique.

Doucoure can slip brilliant passes through lines under pressure and break play expertly. He dominated at Old Trafford like a N’Golo Kante at full throttle.

The comparison was damning, and not just at the crucial moment when Fred collapsed and Doucoure played Townsend on goal, although to analyze this game through individuals would be missing the point.

United’s continued fragility, defensive weakness in the transition, and tactical inconsistency in how they build their walking attacks contrasted sharply with Everton’s structure and discipline.

In a dugout we saw a true tactician, staging a solid point at Old Trafford despite the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, barking his tactical instructions and tweaking details with anxious urgency. In the other, we saw no one, nothing.