McTominay spares Fernandes’s blushes as Manchester United beat Chelsea

<span>Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA</span>
Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

After defeat at Newcastle on Saturday and, to a lesser extent, the ban of four media organisations from the pre‑game press conference on Tuesday, Manchester United and Erik ten Hag required a win.

In elite sport this is the only way to control the message, no matter the PR strategy, and the mission was accomplished thanks to Scott McTominay, who scored his second Premier League double of the season.

Related: Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: Premier League – live

Until his 69th-minute intervention United were heading for another case of a bright start being blighted by switching off, as his opener was cancelled out by a Cole Palmer finish.

If so the inquest into Ten Hag and his team would have had a next chapter. But instead this skirmish of two fallen heavyweights ended with United moving into sixth on 27 points – only three behind Manchester City – and Chelsea, for all their investment, languishing in 10th.

Ten Hag said: “We are going in the right direction and won’t get distracted by criticism. We are pleased with the result and the performance. We deserved this. We wanted to send this message to the crowd but this is also our style. In the first 30 minutes we did it perfectly on the pitch.”

Of McTominay, the manager said: “He did great, scored two and could have had more.”

Six minutes in United were awarded a penalty for an Enzo Fernández stamp on Antony’s foot, Chris Kavanagh pointing to the spot after the VAR instructed the referee to consult the pitchside monitor.

Here was a definite boon for Ten Hag’s men but Bruno Fernandes stepped up and saw his penalty saved by Robert Sánchez, Alejandro Garnacho blasting the follow-up over. It was not what a struggling United needed and, very soon, they nearly conceded.

Sofyan Amrabat passed straight to Nicolas Jackson, who played in Mykhailo Mudryk. As the angle narrowed, the Ukrainian hit André Onana’s right post.

Under the floodlights there was a pleasing tempo about the contest. And next United were particularly chuffed. Amrabat snaffled a loose Chelsea ball, tapped to Fernandes, he relayed to Garnacho, and when the ball went in and Harry Maguire’s effort was blocked it came to McTominay who, steadying himself, beat Sánchez to the latter’s left from close range.

United were performing as Ten Hag would wish, pinning the visitors back and reducing their time on the ball. When Raheem Sterling fed Palmer and kept running along an inside‑right channel, the return was overhit. Silkier was a Garnacho pirouette that dizzied the dark-blue backline and allowed the winger to thread the ball in where Rasmus Højlund lurked.

From United’s XI that lost on Saturday at Newcastle out had gone Kobbie Mainoo, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford, which meant starts for Victor Lindelöf, Amrabat, Højlund and Antony.

Ten Hag had his selection correct as United were as convincing as they have been this term. A Sánchez hoof straight out, as those in red cornered Chelsea’s rearguard, was as emblematic of their supremacy as the keeper’s scramble to repel a McTominay header – and follow-up – moments later.

Suddenly, though, Sterling ran clear, teed up Jackson and this, surely, was the equaliser. But the maligned Onana’s reflexes were superb. United should then have been punished when Mudryk had all of the goal to aim at and missed.

This pointed to United having to get more savvy or Chelsea would take advantage and they did. It was easy: Palmer collected, moved across the D, a passive Lindelöf watched, and the former Manchester City player rolled his shot into Onana’s far left‑hand corner, the keeper perhaps wrong-footed.

For the second half Ten Hag removed Lindelöf for Sergio Reguilón and Mauricio Pochettino introduced Reece James for Marc Cucurella and it was the Argentinian manager’s switch that came close to the instant dividend.

At a corner James rose and flicked towards Jackson, who should have scored but his point-blank header was skied. Luke Shaw had moved into Lindelöf’s central defensive berth to partner Maguire and Reguilón went to left-back. The Spaniard flew along his flank and saw a cross hit the first defender.

The contest was poised. Both sides probed. Next, Palmer hit James whose zipping delivery had Shaw throwing a leg at the ball and United escaped. As did James when a Shaw piledriver hit a hand low down in Chelsea’s area: it may not have been a penalty but, these days, who knows?

McTominay’s winner was a classic midfield schemer’s strike as he drifted into the area, Garnacho spied him, curved the ball in, and the Scot thudded a header past Sánchez.

Old Trafford exploded in a cocktail of joy and relief and moments later the hat-trick was on but he scooped wide. United closed this win out to leave Pochettino in honest form. “They deserved to win,” the Chelsea manager said.