Manchester United interim boss Ralf Rangnick has acknowledged that centre-backs Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane must up their game, but insisted they are not solely to blame for the team's recent struggles.
Varane returned from ten games out with a hamstring injury to make a costly error in the recent 1-1 draw with Newcastle United, during which Maguire was regularly targeted by fans for some unconvincing moments.
Ahead of Thursday's meeting with Burnley, Rangnick did his best to shield his defenders from the criticism.
"I mean, I don't think I mean, Raphael hasn't played for the last five or six weeks and even before the Tottenham game, he was injured," he began (via Sky Sports News).
"So in total in the last three months, he hasn't played that many games. Yes, he made a mistake before the first goal that we conceded. But apart from that, I think he was OK. I wouldn't say that he was outstanding, and the same with Harry, but they did OK.
"Our problem was, again, that we allowed too many transitional moments, and this is not only a problem of the centre of the centre-backs, it's a problem of the whole team that it starts up front. And you can speak also about the role of the No 10 in that kind of formation.
"So I don't think it makes sense to speak about the individual performance of players. We need to get better as a team."
Rangnick is yet to taste defeat in the Premier League, but results under him have not set the world on fire. United saw off Crystal Palace and Norwich with two 1-0 victories, before they were outplayed in the draw with Newcastle.
The boss accepted that progress has been slow but insisted Covid-19 has played a part in delaying things.
"Of course not," he said if he was happy with his work so far. "I mean, [for] every coach, every ambitious coach, there's no difference between other coaches and myself in that, [everyone] wants to take faster steps and larger steps forward.
"But in order to do that, you need to be able to train. And as you know, we had to close Carrington for four days. Before that, we had eight or nine field players in training directly after the Norwich game and they only came back in small bits and pieces.
"So in the last three days, we were almost back to full strength with regard to the size of the squad, but we couldn't do that much in training.
"On the other hand, in those two or three training sessions, the team look good… It was, in Monday's game, a negative surprise the way that we played with regard to game speed, tempo and physicality."