Ten Hag was booked by referee Graham Scott during the 1-0 home win against Luton Town in United’s previous fixture for complaining about the award of a throw-in. It followed on from cautions in the defeats against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal earlier this season.
Who will take over touchline duties on Sunday?
Mitchell van der Gaag will serve as the primary voice in the technical area at Goodison Park on Sunday. The 52-year-old is countryman Ten Hag’s number two, having joined the club with him from Ajax in their native Netherlands in the summer of 2022. Old Trafford crowds have grown used to the sight of Ten Hag turning to his top assistant before looking to make substitutions during games and Van der Gaag is often among the close circle of coaches giving out instructions to players during extended breaks in play.
A former manager himself, with stints in charge at FC Eindhoven and Excelsior Rotterdam to his name, Van der Gaag is a well-regarded technical and tactical figure at United and works across several of their football departments, liaising with coaches and club analysts to devise daily sessions and training schedules. Fluent in six languages — Dutch, English, Portuguese, German, French and Spanish — he is also the primary voice during the training sessions at Carrington.
“Erik is more of an overseer who steps in when he wants to implement his own specific methods,” one source, with knowledge of Van der Gaag’s technical and tactical coaching, told The Athletic in May. “Mitchell is highly regarded, although as a character he is typically Dutch — he could start an argument in a monastery.”
Van der Gaag is known for his intricate training drills, often asking players to make intense sprints before having to quickly assess and respond to different footballing scenarios. Ryan Koolwijk, a former captain under Van der Gaag at Excelsior, previously explained to The Athletic that his drills stemmed from a desire to better educate players on how to make quick — and correct — decisions in both defensive and attacking scenarios.
Before the Champions League away defeat against FC Copenhagen this month, Ten Hag spoke of how his players “have to be composed on the ball and find the solution” to problems on the pitch.
“There are moments where you go more direct, but that depends on which solutions are the best,” said the United manager. “The player has to make the right decisions. So I have to tell them which formations they have to go into, but ultimately it’s up to the players to find solutions because an opponent can do different things. They (United players) have to make decisions on the ball.”
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Who else will help out?
Eric Ramsay is another Ten Hag can be seen turning to during matches. Initially appointed as a set-piece coach after he moved to United from Chelsea in July 2021 (with a focus on defensive routines), Ramsay’s coaching remit has expanded since the arrival of Ten Hag and he now sits alongside Van der Gaag, Steve McClaren and Benni McCarthy as an important member of the backroom staff. He is another multilingual member of the coaching team, speaking fluent Spanish.
In addition to his work at United, Ramsay was appointed as Wales’ assistant manager in March this year, only to step away from that role with his country six months later.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision to make,” Ramsay said in September. “But it is the right one for myself and my family after the recent birth of our second child and taking into consideration the intensity of my role at Manchester United.
“Having discussed everything with my family, Rob (Page, Wales’ manager) and the association (Football Association of Wales), we came to the conclusion that it was best to depart my role before the upcoming internationals so that the group can fully concentrate on the fixtures.”
How much will United miss Ten Hag’s presence?
It’s a crude metric, but Ten Hag’s eye for mid-game adjustments helped United score 12 goals in the Premier League last season.
Opinions differ on how much a manager can affect a match once it has kicked off, but Ten Hag has shown himself to be an active touchline presence during Premier League fixtures, spending extended periods relaying tactical advice and adjustments to his players in an attempt to optimise United’s play.
(Top photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)