Manchester United had never lost a Premier League game to Tottenham at Old Trafford going into their clash at the weekend. But this soon changed when Spurs made Sir Alex Ferguson's side pay for their sloppy performance in midfield and defence.

It took Tottenham all of two minutes to exploit the defensive frailties in the Manchester United side this season. What is worse, is that it was a centre-back masquerading as a full-back that was afforded such space and time on the ball.

Jan Vertonghen
Vertonghen celebrates after opening the scoring against Manchester United [Reuters] Reuters

Jan Vertonghen duly obliged as he handed Spurs a surprise lead. But was it really much of a shock. Going into the fixture, United had conceded the first goal on four occasions already this season. Fortunately their attacking prowess had turned embarrassment into ecstasy in three of those four matches.

In every game this season, United have looked susceptible at the back. Even in the 4-0 win over Wigan, it was only once Paul Scholes was introduced that United began to grab a foothold in the game.

They have now conceded nine goals in just six league games and not all the blame can be placed on the back four, or five including the goalkeeper.

It is true that Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans struggled to live with the pace of Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale - the movement of Jermain Defoe also troubled the duo as holes big enough to fit a double decker bus appeared in the United backline - but Tottenham dominated the heart of midfield.

Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, so often the architects of dominant Manchester United displays, were unable to deal with Sandro and Moussa Dembele. The Belgian had already impressed for Fulham at Old Trafford earlier this season, and gave another display which had fans asking why he wasn't snapped up by Ferguson in the summer.

Sandro's ability to win the ball and feed the creative Spurs players led to the north London side dominating the first half. It was only once the famed hairdryer treatment had been dished out that United responded and looked dangerous.

It is clear that United's injury problems are causing havoc at the back. With Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and, most importantly, Nemanja Vidic all sidelined it has been impossible for Ferguson to pick his strongest defence. Patrice Evra seems a shade of the player that made the left-back role his own, while Rafael's over enthusiasm in attack can lead to gaping holes down United's right.

Yet, perhaps more disconcerting for United fans has been the performances of United's midfield. Against both Liverpool and Tottenham they were second best, conceding possession and allowing the opposition to control the game for large periods. This is reflected in the possession statistics with United coming off second best against both sides.

Wayne Rooney
Rooney was introduced at half-time but could not deny Spurs the win [Reuters] Reuters

It is not just a replacement for Scholes that must be found. A powerful, ball winning midfielder is desperately needed. Ferguson claimed he has never had a holding midfielder, yet there has always been a player in central midfield that was prepared to fight for the ball.

Since Roy Keane we have seen the likes of Nicky Butt, Owen Hargreaves (when fit) and Darren Fletcher fulfil this role for the team. It is a position in which the other top sides have a variety of options.

Manchester City can call upon Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia; Chelsea rely heavily on Jon Obi Mikel; Newcastle have Cheick Tiote, Tottenham call on Sandro and Liverpool use Lucas Leiva.

If Ferguson is to wrestle the title back from Manchester City then the January transfer window could be an exciting time to be a United fan. The side has shown a battling spirit and they are just four points behind leaders Chelsea. If the right player arrives in the New Year then Ferguson could well be celebrating a 20<sup>th league title come May.

The five players United could look to sign in January:

Sami Khedira - The Real Madrid man has emerged as one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in European football, originally making his name as part of a German side which excelled at the World Cup in 2010. A powerful figure with a superb engine, he would help orchestrate attacks as well as deny opponents time and space on the ball.

Cheick Tiote - Has excelled since joining Newcastle from FC Twente for the bargain price of just £3.5million. A dynamic and tough tackling midfielder who allows the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa to express themselves to great effect.

Yann M'Vila - A France international that has been repeatedly linked with a move away from Rennes, M'Vila is in the mould of countryman Claude Makelele. His ability to read the game means he rarely has to make last ditch tackles, while his physicality makes him a commanding figure in the centre of the park.

Javier Macherano - He may be a former Liverpool player and has recently been forced to play in defence, but the Barcelona man is one of the finest tackling midfielders in world football. Previously excelled in the Premier League and has a surprisingly good range of passing for a player known for his defensive capabilities.

Daniele de Rossi - The 29-year-old has been a mainstay in the Roma side for several seasons and was the star performer for Italy at Euro 2012. Certainly not just a defensive player, De Rossi is a classical midfielder in that he can tackle, burst forward, score goals and generally take the scruff of the neck.