Phil Jones made errors for both Spurs goals, and while he has developed quite a reputation for diving in front of lost causes at every opportunity, he has forever been prone to fundamental errors too. In many ways the former Blackburn man is the personification of the chasm between a good defender and a great one. Good centre-backs can throw themselves in the way of the ball, but great defenders have a knack for ensuring such an action is rarely required thanks to an innate ability to read a game.
His partnership with Chris Smalling has been a source of some concern for many United fans in recent years, with both England internationals looking occasionally accomplished but regularly fallible all the same. Smalling’s form has fallen off a cliff since a hugely impressive 2015, and the second he is exposed by runners from the opposition midfield he looks panicky and uneasy.
And that is where United’s problems appear to lie as they prepare for the visit of Huddersfield Town on Saturday. Perhaps David Wagner’s side will not be able to replicate Spurs’ performance by sending attackers into the space between United’s defensive lines, but Mourinho needs to come up with answers sooner rather than later. He particularly needs to address the issues before Chelsea come to town in United’s next home fixture on February 25.
Against opposition who have fancied their chances on the ball, United have looked vulnerable. Their poor record against teams in the top six is not down to Mourinho supposedly parking the bus, but rather down to their inability to convincingly deal with threats to their back line.
Tottenham might only have scored twice on Wednesday but they could have had far more, while Chelsea grabbed the winning goal at Stamford Bridge almost as soon as they launched a concerted period of pressure back in November. Add in the fact Arsenal were allowed to send 33 shots towards David de Gea’s goal in December and there is clearly an inherent problem for United. If anything, they need to be better at ‘parking the bus’.
Nemanja Matic’s form has been a concern in recent months following his lightning start to life at Manchester United, and with Pogba having been pushed up to provide more support to the attacking quartet in recent weeks the Serbian has only been further exposed.
Ander Herrera’s downturn has also hit United hard, robbing Mourinho of the chance to add an extra man of dynamism and substance in midfield in the long-term absence of Michael Carrick. The club skipper may be back to full fitness now, but adding another immobile holding player alongside Matic is unlikely to be the true solution the manager is looking for.