Manchester United suffered a second successive defeat as three second-half goals from Tottenham Hotspur dramatically changed a contest that had promised a better outcome for the Reds in the first period.
There had been a breathless start to the game with United’s chastened team looking intent on sending out a message that the 3-2 Brighton defeat a week last Sunday was a one-off. This time the Reds' attitude looked spot on. Jose Mourinho's men were sparky, lively, determined and confident.
Spurs had arrived at Old Trafford with a two-match winning start from victories at Newcastle and at home to Fulham. But it was Mauricio Pochettino’s side who initially looked like they were feeling the affects of a hangover of defeat, not the Reds. The visitors were nervy, ragged and out of sorts as United tore into them from the off with pace and adventure.
Mourinho’s new-look three-man central defence allowed an attacking midfield five the chance to get on the front foot. And get on the front foot they certainly did. With Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba doing the more guarding roles in the engine room, Fred in particular found early freedom to attack Spurs.
The Brazilian forced his way into the box after just 11 seconds but couldn’t steer his right-footed shot on target. It would have been the perfect beginning.
A second even bigger opportunity wasn’t far behind as the Reds refused to let a rattled Spurs settle. Danny Rose hadn’t looked comfortable from the off and the left-back undersold a backpass to his keeper Hugo Lloris. It was a dreadful error that Romelu Lukaku was swift to seize upon. The Belgian looked to have done the hard work by gliding past Lloris’s desperate efforts to reach the ball first but although he evaded the French goalkeeper's lunge, he rolled his shot just wide of the far post.
The start was frenetic and tetchy with three players, Lucas Moura, Ander Herrera and Harry Kane all going into referee Craig Pawson’s book for hefty challenges.
Christian Eriksen fired a shot in that saw David De Gea make his only real save of the first half in the 40th minute. It was a recovery of sorts by Spurs but United were by far the better side in the first half.
There was no let up with the Reds' intensity in the opening minutes after the break with Pogba crashing in a long-range effort that fizzed just past the post. But as ever, it is putting the ball in the net that counts and if you don’t you can pay the price. There had been little sign that United’s defence would be breached but it was undone twice in a shock two-minute spell.
United were still taking on board the body blow when Eriksen found space on Spurs' right wing and crossed for Lucas Moura to beat De Gea again, just two minutes after Kane's goal. Spurs had hidden their killer punches well and the Reds just didn’t see the knockout hits coming.
Jose Mourinho sought to repair the damage by abandoning the three-man rearguard and bringing Alexis on for Herrera. A further change was forced on him when Jones limped off after 57 minutes to be replaced by Victor Lindelof and then on the hour Marouane Fellaini took the place of Matic.
The liveliness of Alexis and muscle of Fellaini as subs failed to light up a faltering United as the first-half confidence drained away.
The defence was found wanting again in the 84th minute when the whippet speed of Moura saw him steam past Smalling and fire home Spurs' third goal.
It was a night to forget at Old Trafford in the end but Jose Mourinho stuck around after the final whistle to applaud the fans for their efforts to rally his side in their hour of need.
United: De Gea, Valencia (c), Smalling, Jones (Lindelof 57), Shaw, Matic (Fellaini 60), Fred, Pogba, Herrera (Alexis 55), Lingard, Lukaku.
Subs not used: Grant, Young, Rashford, McTominay.
Booked: Herrera, Valencia.
Spurs: Lloris, Trippier (Aurier 76), Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose (Davies 81), Dier, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli, Moura, Kane (Winks 89).
Subs not used: Vorm, Sanchez, Lamela, Llorente.
Booked: Moura, Kane, Rose.
Referee: Craig Pawson