Manchester United players believe Jose Mourinho’s use of Ander Herrera as an auxiliary defender against Tottenham was a response to Ed Woodward for failing to recruit a centre half in the transfer window.

Mourinho dropped Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof and recalled Chris Smalling and Phil Jones as he switched to a defensive trident that was supplemented by Herrera for the Old Trafford encounter. Jones, Herrera and Smalling were all culpable for Spurs’ goals in the 3-0 defeat.

Woodward ultimately vetoed Mourinho’s recommendation to sign Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld, who performed outstandingly in their Old Trafford victory, earlier this month. The club also considered Leicester defender Harry Maguire but baulked at the £75million asking price and United have sieved seven goals in their first three league fixtures for the first time since 1969.

The MEN understands certain United players’ confidence has been dented by Mourinho’s drastic restructuring of the defence and some felt their removal from the team was ‘harsh’. Mourinho made six changes to the team which was humbled 3-1 by Brighton on August 19 against Spurs, with Bailly omitted from the squad altogether and Lindelof relegated to the bench.

Tensions are said to be ‘running high’ after two consecutive defeats. There is some doubt in the dressing room over whether Mourinho will stay beyond Christmas, with the players mindful of the parallels developing with the Portuguese’s final months at Chelsea when he was dismissed on December 17.

Some United players are also understood to feel the club has been destabilised by the split between Mourinho and Woodward over the club’s summer strategy. Mourinho admitted on Monday night he did not know what his best ‘back four’ was.

“No,” Mourinho replied. “Because in the first game Lindelof and Bailly, now Jones and Smalling but now Jones is injured and in the next match will be Smalling with another one and when Marcos Rojo comes he will also be an option and I don’t know my best back four.”

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