The problem against Tottenham was inside our heads, claims Manchester United's Patrice Evra

Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3

Once, when he was asked why Sir Alex Ferguson was suddenly so nice about him, Arsène Wenger replied wistfully that he was no longer seen as a threat at Old Trafford.

Manchester United's great helmsman invariably lavishes praise on those he regularly beats. Usually, when they play Newcastle, Ferguson will highlight their open football, their readiness to make a game of it. Newcastle have not won at Old Trafford since 1972.

Tottenham Hotspur had not won there since 1989. In his programme notes, Ferguson was gushing: "Managers and coaches come and go but it seems to be in the genes at Tottenham that they will play with a quality and style that is good to watch."

He was not quite so complimentary after the final whistle, attacking Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel for time-wasting and claiming it was "an insult to the game" that referee Chris Foy had added only four minutes of stoppage time. Today, preparing for the Champions League fixture with Cluj, Ferguson finds himself in Transylvania, a place where you can expect to be bitten.

On Saturday, however, it was the match that had bite. Tottenham, displaying all the flair that Ferguson had talked about, had glided into a two-goal lead before facing the full brunt of a hurricane, inspired by an electrified Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes.

Playing United in this kind of mood must be like being on the other side of the door as Jack Nicholson starts smashing it down with an axe and a cry of "Here's Johnny!" in The Shining. Clint Dempsey, the scorer of Spurs' precious third goal, was on the bench in the desperate, final moments "just praying we would see it out."

Steven Caulker, who was not born when Gary Lineker scored Tottenham's last winner at Old Trafford, was in the thick of things in a defence that, under enormous pressure, buckled but did not break. "When it got to 2-1 and 3-2, there were times when you have to stand strong and hold the line," said the 20-year-old graduate of the Tottenham academy. "There were times when United came close but people were prepared to put their bodies on the line – the main example being when William Gallas collided with a post to get the ball out for a corner."

United's defence had proved rather more brittle. Rio Ferdinand was at fault for all three Tottenham goals. His game, reliant on positioning and timing, should outlast that of John Terry which depends on muscle and work-rate – but perhaps it won't.

This may have been a blip or it may have been the start of a champion's twilight. United have kept two clean sheets in seven matches – and in one of those Galatasaray struck the frame of their goal three times.

"We put on the Manchester United face only in the second half and that is not enough, if you want the title," said the Old Trafford left-back Patrice Evra.

"You could say that in the second half we maybe deserved to win because we created a lot of chances but we were not good enough in the first half and that is what is really painful.

"If you want to talk about positives, let's make sure we play the way we did in the second half. If we do, it will be difficult for any team to beat us. But we have to play like that from the first minute. That's why I say the problem was inside our heads. It was not tactics, it was not tiredness. You don't play a second half like that and make the excuse that you are tired."

Romanians get back on track

Romanian champions CFR Cluj warmed up for their tie with Manchester United with a 5-1 thrashing of Gloria Bistrita, pushing them up to fifth in the table after an indifferent start to the season.

Pantelis Kapetanos put the Transylvanian side ahead after just five minutes with a towering header before a Gabriel Stelian brace, a goal either side of half-time, demonstrated their superiority.

Sasa Bjelanovic and Brazilian Luis Alberton scored late on to round off a resounding win as Alin Minteuan's side look to build on their 2-0 win at Braga in the opening round of group stage fixtures.

Match facts

Man Utd: LINDEGAARD 6/10; RAFAEL 5; FERDINAND 4; EVANS 5; EVRA 6; NANI 7; CARRICK 7; SCHOLES 8; GIGGS 5; KAGAWA 6; VAN PERSIE

Spurs: FRIEDEL 7; VERTONGHEN 8; CAULKER 7; GALLAS 7; WALKER 7; BALE 8; DEMBELE 7; DEMPSEY 7; SANDRO 8; LENNON 7; DEFOE 7

Goals: Man Utd Nani 51, Kagawa 53. Tottenham Vertonghen 2, Bale 32, Dempsey 52. Subs: Man U Rooney 8 (Giggs, 45), Welbeck (Kagawa, 79), Hernandez (Ferdinand, 90). TH Sigurdsson 5 (Dempsey, 70), Huddlestone (Dembélé, 84), Dawson (Defoe, 90). Man of match Bale. Match rating 9/10. Poss Man U 74%. TH 26%. Attempts on target Man U 7. TH 4. Ref C Foy (Merseyside). Att 75,566.

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