Mourinho can banish his defence-first ghosts all he likes but it’s the midfield battle that Tottenham are losing.

WHEN Jose Mourinho took charge of Tottenham, fans pondered whether he would be bringing his trademark defensive stodginess to North London or lighting some unexpected attacking fireworks.

As it turns out, their biggest problem was somewhere in the middle.

 Sissoko's second-half foul on Rashford could have been avoided

Sissoko's second-half foul on Rashford could have been avoidedCredit: Getty Images - Getty

Manchester United beat Spurs 2-1 at Old Trafford on Wednesday after the visitors lost the midfield battle all ends up.

Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko started alongside eachother and their disjointed, confused performance started with an early calamity tackle by the England international.

An unedifying lunge on Daniel James with the ball already out of play earned an unnecessary yellow and crunched the Welsh winger into the knee of Winks' new boss.

It was the footballing equivalent of spilling hot coffee all over your manager's personalised keyboard on the morning of your appraisal.

Mourinho may not be the spiky grudge-holder he was once known to be. But Jose still remembers.

 Winks inadvertently wiped out his manager with an early hack

Winks inadvertently wiped out his manager with an early hackCredit: AFP or licensors

Winks' task was to mop up possession and distribute the ball while Sissoko hustled the porous duo of Scott McTominay and Fred.

With the Frenchman operating at the headless chicken end of the box-to-box midfielder spectrum, he clumsily submitted to Marcus Rashford's direct running in the second-half and conceded the game winning penalty.

Winks, meanwhile, scarcely got his foot on the ball and was replaced after 70 minutes.

Mourinho is now left pondering what to do with a player who looked like a hastily promoted work experience boy on Wednesday night, and he isn't short of options with foreign exchange student Giovani Lo Celso surely begging for the same opportunity.

Moving rejuvenated employee of the month Dele Alli back into the engine room is not really an option, no matter how it might suit his bombastic style.

Outcast from Gareth Southgate's Three Lions, Alli's stunner against United harked back to his staggering flick'n'finish against Crystal Palace in early 2016 - albeit from closer range.

When it comes to England, it may well be Winks that Alli replaces when he inevitably returns to the squad.

Life isn't so simple for Mourinho, with little budget for new recruits in January and a fresh conundrum that isn't as simple as attack versus defence.

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