Ahead of today's Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium, Louis van Gaal's men have conceded 13 goals in their nine Premier League outings, as well as a further four against League One outfit MK Dons in the League Cup.
However, rather than seeing the leaky rearguard as a tactical or collective issue, Higginbotham has told Sports Mole that United have been made to pay for a succession of individual mistakes and a lack of "leaders at the back".
"If you look at a lot of the goals that United have conceded this season, it's been down to individuals. Players have been out of position or going into areas that they shouldn't be," said the former United defender.
"What they have lost, which they have had for as long as I can remember, is leaders at the back. They seem short of them at the moment and someone needs to step up to organise things - it makes a big difference.
"You look at the past, United have had the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Gary Neville, Jaap Stam and the list goes on. That is something that they really need now. One of the centre-backs needs to come out and start dictating."
When asked if any of United's current centre-backs have the potential to "step up" to take charge of the defence, Higginbotham conceded that persistent injury problems have proved to be detrimental.
"Marcos Rojo is new to the team and probably still getting used to the language," he added.
"Phil Jones is in and out through injury and it's the same with Jonny Evans. You look at Evans and with his age and experience, he should be the leader, but he struggles with injuries. You need continuity in your back four."
Read Danny Higginbotham's thoughts on today's Manchester derby by clicking here.