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United were ripped apart in the opening period against Tottenham on Saturday and despite their second half display, they cannot repeat their defensive mistakes when they face Cluj.

 Brendon Netto
 Analysis | Champions League
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Every once in a while we come across a game of two halves in football and Manchester United’s defeat to Tottenham on Saturday was a prime example of such. The home side’s defending in the first half was atrocious but the spirit and fight they showed in the second completely battered the visitors off the park and came agonisingly close to getting them a result as well. However, they cannot afford to make the same sloppy mistakes again when they travel to Romania to face CFR Cluj in the Champions League.

Tottenham exploited United's defence weaknesses

Following last season’s unceremonious elimination from Europe’s elite club competition, Sir Alex will be wary of the team he fields against Cluj in midweek. United were fortunate not to concede against Galatasaray at home but their Romanian opponents this time around will be pumped up to face the Red Devils knowing that they have nothing to lose.

The most notable shortcoming of the United team against Spurs was their immobility in the centre of midfield and defence. Ryan Giggs’ laboured wing play exposed the left hand side as well and further compounded United’s problems as Evra was repeatedly left isolated against the combined threat of Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker.

The amount of space between a slow central midfield and an equally sluggish central defence was readily exploited in full by a marauding run courtesy of Jan Vertonghen and then an effortless stroll past the defence by Gareth Bale. Rio Ferdinand was culpable on both occasions. He never got close enough to challenge Vertonghen’s run for the first goal and then was left embarrassed by Bale’s pace for the second. The Tottenham players were relishing the opportunity to run at the England international.

Sir Alex may need to consider a change of tactics and personnel

Ferdinand used to be rightfully described as a Rolls-Royce in defence but time has caught up with the ageing Englishman and it’s pretty evident that he’s quickly running out of gas. Paul Scholes is still a phenomenal player and easily among the best midfielders in the world. After watching him launch long diagonal balls around the pitch in between some delightful passes along the turf with such precision in that second half on Saturday, it’s hard to believe that the man who can influence a Premier League game that much was retired at this time last year.

However, it’s asking a lot of the maestro to play in a two-man midfield alongside a 31-year old Michael Carrick. Unless United play entire games with the kind of intensity they showed in the second half (which would be impossible to sustain for 90 minutes), the midfield duo are always going to struggle when running back towards their own goal. The fact that the defence is equally hindered in that respect means that Sir Alex may have to think about his system and personnel.

Scholes delivered another master class in midfield but couldn't offer any cover for a frail defence

What the demanding Scotsman certainly wouldn’t want is failing to come back from Romania with a victory. He has already stated that Darren Fletcher will start the away fixture and judging by the Scot’s recent performance against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup that can only be a good thing for the team.

CFR Cluj won their opening game in the Champions League 0-2 away to SC Braga thereby issuing a stern warning to the rest of the group. Their Brazilian attacking midfielder Rafael Bastos scored both goals in that fixture. If United don’t tighten things up at the back, Bastos has the pace and technique to make them pay.

Expect Sir Alex to ensure his team gets the 3 points in Romania

It will be interesting to see what side Sir Alex fields against the Romanian champions but what we can expect without a shadow of a doubt is that it will be one that is set up not to concede goals. After having their defence exposed mercilessly in their last game, a clean sheet will be high on their list of priorities. The good news for United fans is that their team almost never fails to respond strongly just as they did after the interval against Andre Villas-Boas’ men.

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