Scott McTominay relieved some of the pressure surrounding Erik Ten Hag as his double earned an improved Manchester United a much-needed 2-1 win over Chelsea.
Ten Hag’s gamble in dropping both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial amid reports of dressing-room disharmony had the desired effect for the under-fire manager, with the hosts’ quality with and without the ball a world away from Saturday’s dismal defeat at Newcastle.
McTominay opened the scoring on the rebound from Harry Maguire’s effort (19), but Unitwd would have already been ahead had Bruno Fernandes not seen an eighth-minute penalty saved.
United dominated the opening period without adding to their lead, and were made to pay on the stroke of half-time when Cole Palmer fired home a well-placed strike from just inside the area.
The home side were less effective following the interval but McTominay (69) restored their advantage with a close-range header from Alejandro Garnacho’s cross, before the Argentine wasted a glorious opportunity to wrap up victory on the break.
It mattered little in the end, as United’s performance cut through the noise surrounding the club to finally earn a first point – and win – of the season against an opponent in the top half of the Premier League, and lifted them just three points off the top four.
How Man Utd bounced back to beat the Blues
Manchester United badly needed a performance after Saturday’s loss at Newcastle, and they were unrecognisable from that limp defeat from the first minute.
Quick into the press as well as on the ball, they took the game to their visitors from the off and were handed a golden opportunity to solidify that start when Kavanagh was sent to the VAR monitor.
He spotted Fernandez’s late challenge on Antony and pointed to the spot, but Fernandes’ poor penalty was kept out by two strong Sanchez hands.
McTominay spared his blushes after Garnacho and Mudryk had spurned opportunities at either end in an increasingly frenetic opening, firing home the rebound after Harry Maguire’s shot was blocked.
He should have doubled his tally before the break but planted a free header straight at the Chelsea goalkeeper, while Andre Onana earned himself some personal redemption with a brave stop at the feet of Jackson in one of several dangerous breaks from the visitors.
Their equaliser, when it came, owed more to the individual brilliance of Palmer. Taking Mudryk’s pass in his stride, several faints to shoot bought him the half-yard he needed to sweep a low finish past Onana’s despairing dive.
Both sides made changes at the break but it was Chelsea’s tactical tweak to a 4-4-2 without the ball which denied Manchester United the freedom they had enjoyed before half-time.
In a game lacking much in the way of logic it was when United looked at their least dangerous that they restored their advantage, when Garnacho’s curling cross to the back post was guided home by McTominay once more.
Manchester United are back in action on Saturday in the Premier League as they face Bournemouth, kick-off 3pm. They then play their final Champions League group game at home to Harry Kane’s Bayern Munich on Tuesday December 12, kick-off 8pm.
Chelsea are back in action on Sunday when they travel to Everton in the Premier League, kick-off 2pm. They then host Sheffield United on Saturday December 16, kick-off 3pm.