The Red Devils suffered an embarrassing 6-1 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s side which posed yet more questions of their transfer policy
With no fans in the stands at Old Trafford, the television commentators can be heard clearly inside the Theatre of Dreams right now.
“Ed Woodward has just over 24 hours left,” one announcer boomed into their microphone as Tottenham’s fourth first-half goal nestled into the net on Sunday. The Manchester United executive vice-chairman was within earshot and will have had no doubt as to what activity was being hinted at.
While United were being mauled by former manager Jose Mourinho and his ever-improving Spurs team, the Red Devils’ latest new addition was landing in Manchester.
Edinson Cavani, who is set to arrive as a free agent after a surprise agreement was reached with the ex-Paris Saint-Germain star, has made his way to the club’s Carrington training base to undergo a medical before becoming United’s second signing of the summer.
It is to be hoped the Uruguay international has not been paying any attention to the goings on at Old Trafford so far this campaign, with the 6-1 defeat here only confirming what many have been fearing when watching Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team this season.
While the club are attempting to get fans excited about Cavani’s arrival, the problem is that unless the 33-year-old can suddenly play at centre-back then it is going to do little to improve United’s performances.
Their display against Tottenham was as bad as it has got in recent times; a shambolic effort that cannot be blamed on a soft red card that was handed to Anthony Martial for a slap on Erik Lamela in the 27th minute.
United were already 2-1 down by that point thanks to goals from Tanguy Ndombele and Son Heung-min following a stream of comedic defending from Solskjaer’s side.
For all the emphasis and effort that has gone into trying to secure a right-sided attacker before Monday’s deadline, the real problems in this team lie in its defence.
On their day, United’s front three of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are up there among the best attacking threats in the world, and the potential arrival of Jadon Sancho would have only enhanced that belief.
But that could come to mean nothing when their defence, in its current form, would not look amiss in a side that is fighting a relegation battle.
United have now conceded 11 goals in their opening three league matches for only the second time in their history – they conceded 13 in 1930-31 and went on to be relegated.
And while they are far from relegation fodder this time around, they can kiss goodbye to any chance of competing for the title after two defeats from their opening three matches.
With Victor Lindelof having faced criticism throughout the opening weeks of the campaign, Solskjaer finally relented against Spurs and started Eric Bailly alongside Harry Maguire.
But, after United had taken the lead inside two minutes through a Bruno Fernandes penalty, both members of the new-look centre-back pairing were at fault for Ndombele’s equaliser, with Bailly and Maguire both heading the ball up in the air before the latter clashed with Luke Shaw to allow the Spurs midfielder to fire home.
Bailly was then caught out by a quickly-taken Harry Kane free kick which allowed Son to make it 2-1 three minutes later.
These were not isolated incidents, with United’s defence all over the place every time the visitors launched attacks. Things only got worse after Martial was sent off, but the signs were there that a thrashing was on the cards long before the France international received his marching orders.
The alarming problem for Solskjaer is that this performance was not a one-off. It was not a lapse in concentration and a bad day at the office like when Manchester City won by the same scoreline here in 2011.
This was a continuation of a theme that has been plaguing United for some time. Their defence, despite spending £80 million ($97m) to bring in Maguire in the summer of 2019, has continued to look unconvincing.
Bailly was at fault for Spurs’ third as his dreadful pass on the edge of the area was leapt upon by Kane, and not even the extra man United were missing would have helped to compensate for the way the visitors cut them open with ease.
Fred and Scott McTominay were brought on at half-time to offer more security to United’s leaky backline. but even that could not help to stop a superb through-ball from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from finding Serge Aurier for Spurs’ fifth of the evening.
A ludicrous sliding tackle from Paul Pogba, who had another poor game, ensured Kane got on the scoresheet for a second time as he netted Tottenham’s sixth from the penalty spot. Meanwhile in the stands, Woodward could be seen checking his phone as the embarrassment continued.
In just 16 days’ time United will take on a PSG attack that is likely to boast Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, among others. It does not bear thinking about the carnage that could ensue if Woodward does not deliver a new centre-back in the next 24 hours.
That, however, does not seem likely. Cavani and new left-back Alex Telles, for whom a deal has been agreed with Porto, will arrive, but a central defender is not a priority for the 20-time English champions.
If that does not change fast, then a long season is in store for those who follow Manchester United.