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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks on

Next Man Utd manager odds: Why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is holding back United

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

Our access to the inner workings of a football club are so limited we're always searching for hidden meanings, straining our eyes as we peer through the keyhole.

Perhaps it leads to wild extrapolations or a little confirmation bias, but watching Manchester United labour to a 1-1 draw with Everton at Old Trafford the eyes kept drifting to the empty space in the home side's technical area.

Maybe analysing a manager's touchline demeanour is fruitless; maybe flapping your arms about doesn't signify anything.

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Or maybe there is something in the fact that the great tacticians of our time fret and bluster, screaming instructions with an urgency that suggests their left-back being millimetres out of position will cause the earth's poles to flip.

Maybe there is useful information to be gleaned from Pep Guardiola kicking every ball or Thomas Tuchel inviting an army of assistants to crowd round a tactics folder.

Next permanent Manchester United manager odds (via Sky Bet)

  • 2/1 - Antonio Conte
  • 5/1 - Mauricio Pochettino
  • 8/1 - Brendan Rodgers
  • 10/1 - Julen Lopetegui
  • 12/1 - Laurent Blanc, Zinedine Zidane
  • 14/1 - Erik ten Hag
  • 16/1 - Julian Nagelsmann, Roberto Mancini
  • 20/1 - Gareth Southgate

Odds correct at 1300 BST (03/10/21)

Solskjaer’s United idealess again

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn't come out from behind the low brick wall until the final stages of the match.

For 80 minutes, while Rafael Benitez paced his dugout and gave detailed instructions (swapping Tom Davies and Abdoulaye Doucoure around with a frantic scissor motion; earnestly imploring Andros Townsend, with an arm around his shoulder, to track back), Kieran McKenna cut a lonely figure stood towards the back of the technical area, arms hugged to his chest, not saying a word.

United were bitty and frustrating, lurching between spells of surging attacking football – led by Bruno Fernandes, pulling the strings to feed the bustling Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood down the sides – and a wafting, staccato meh.

None of that is new. Everyone knows the drill now. The tactical analysis of United's plan, or lack of it, is starting to hit the mainstream and as it does we find ourselves seeing everything through that lens; drawn to the absence, to the empty space where a manager should be.

Is Ronaldo’s influence a negative for United?

Very little about United's performance on Saturday afternoon wavered from the usual script, the only difference this time being the manner of Cristiano Ronaldo's influence.

Much has been made of his aura, of how the supernova may draw too much light, may distort the physics in his orbit, and here was the first example of that possibility.

At Juventus standards dropped when players subconsciously began looking for Ronaldo to save them, taking their foot off the gas as they waited for his match-winning impact.

On Saturday, the problem was more to do with the energy that rolled and warbled around Old Trafford in Ronaldo's presence.

Ronaldo v Everton

The match was running relatively smoothly at 1-0 in the second half when CR7 powered up, emerging from the bench to ecstatic applause.

Ronaldo came on – and the game exploded. The United fans went mad, the Everton fans went mad, and both teams jolted into a kind of mania, challenges flying in and the game pin-balling until Fred made a Fred-like error and United conceded a United-like counter-attacking goal.

We expected Ronaldo to reverberate through Man Utd's football. We didn't expect it to lift the opposition too.

The tactical angle would posit that his absence of pressing, and drifting to the flanks, disrupted the rhythm Edinson Cavani had set, allowing Everton to counter-attack more sharply through the excellent Demarai Gray – who slipped and slalomed about, confounding everyone as a winger playing up-front.

That is true to an extent, but being inside Old Trafford you could feel this was more psychological than that; the football equivalent of the giddiness that ripples through a crowd when a celebrity walks into the room.

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Should United have signed a midfielder instead of Ronaldo?

It is too early to tell whether signing Ronaldo was a mistake, but as many highlighted at the time it was certainly a curious decision to prioritise a new striker over a central midfielder.

The McFred partnership continues to infuriate and one half of it was dreadful here, the Brazilian giving the ball away in dangerous areas on multiple occasions before his mistake eventually led to Everton's equaliser.

Fred's flaws were all the more glaring next to Doucoure, undoubtedly the game's man of the match.

Here, in blue, was what Manchester United are crying out for, a sweeping and tackling and bursting and glancing midfielder with that rare fusion of technicality and physicality.

Doucoure can slip brilliant passes through the lines under pressure and break up the play expertly. He dominated at Old Trafford like a fully-firing N'Golo Kante.

The comparison was damning, and not only in the crucial moment when Fred flailed and Doucoure played Townsend through on goal, although to analyse this game through individuals would be to miss the point.

United's continued frailty, their defensive weakness in the transition, and the tactical incoherence in how they build their ambling attacks contrasted sharply with Everton's structure and discipline.

In one dugout we saw a true tactician, masterminding a solid point at Old Trafford despite missing Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, barking his tactical instructions and tweaking the details with anxious urgency.

In the other we saw no-one, nothing.

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