Going in 0-0 at half-time against Tottenham, Jose Mourinho’s tactical gamble to make six changes and play Ander Herrera as part of a five-man Manchester United defence looked to be paying off. The best chance of the first half went to Romelu Lukaku and, following last week’s shock result at Brighton, United fans were getting the response they wanted from their side.
Then, just seven minutes after the break, Harry Kane and Lucas Moura scored within 113 seconds of each other and Mourinho threw Plan A out of the window by bringing on Alexis Sanchez in the place of makeshift defender Herrera, who had been playing to the right of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at centre-back.
While Plan A worked well for United during the first 50 minutes of the match, Plan B didn’t have the desired effect and Lucas’ second goal of the game in the 84th minute consigned the Red Devils to their second successive loss in the Premier League and the worst home defeat that Mourinho has ever suffered as a manager.
One of the biggest talking points heading into the match at Old Trafford surrounded United’s defence, which shipped three goals at Brighton with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly as centre-backs, so it was no real surprise that Mourinho opted to replace the duo (Bailly wasn’t even in the squad) with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
Unfortunately for the United boss, his defenders were just as bad against Spurs and, no matter who he selects at the back between now and the January transfer window, fans and pundits will continue to remind him that he, along with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, should have done everything they could to strengthen at centre-back over the summer.
Tottenham deserve enormous credit for the way they carved United apart in the second half, but all three goals could have been dealt with by the home defence. Kane escaped Jones too easily to head in the opener, while Lucas outfought Herrera to make it 2-0 before outpacing Smalling to finish superbly and wrap the game up late on.
The 13-time Premier League winners were linked with a whole host of central defenders in the summer, from Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld and Leicester’s Harry Maguire to Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, but they didn’t land a single one of them.
Short-term, Mourinho will have to make do with Jones, Smalling, £60 million duo Bailly and Lindelof, and even Herrera and forgotten man Marcos Rojo, in defence. Long-term, if United are to avoid any more damaging defeats like this, he had better start drawing up a new centre-back shortlist as soon as possible.
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