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Erik's United front quells crisis talk

Updated: 2023-12-08 09:04
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Ten Hag's men respond to rumors of discord with convincing Chelsea win

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag said his side sent a message with a 2-1 win over Chelsea to ease the pressure on the Dutchman.

Ten Hag got the response he desired after a dreadful display in a 1-0 defeat by Newcastle on Saturday as Scott McTominay's double rewarded arguably United's best performance of the season with three points.

"We are pleased with the result and the performance. We deserved this," Ten Hag told the BBC. "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.

"When you are not on top form on the day, you get beaten," Ten Hag added. "You need to be at your best. When you are not, you get killed. We know that and we need the right attitude every game."

The club had banned four journalists from Tuesday's pregame news conference after they reported that the manager had lost more than 50 percent of the dressing room. The club said in a statement they barred the reporters because they did not give United right of reply to negative stories.

Ten Hag said again that he is not concerned.

"I don't care about the noise," he said. "They are used to it. It was the same (at) Ajax, but in a smaller country so fewer people."

Wednesday's win had Old Trafford's Stretford End singing "Erik ten Hag's Red Army" in the game's dying minutes while midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, who has underwhelmed since a September move from Fiorentina, defended his manager after the game.

"He's one of the best in the world," the Moroccan told Amazon Prime. "He's a fantastic coach and we are all behind him."

Ten Hag praised McTominay's performance. While he scored twice and is United's top league scorer this season with five goals, he had numerous other chances, including two rapid-fire shots that forced goalkeeper Robert Sanchez into an acrobatic double save.

"He did great," Ten Hag said. "He had an important role to play. He is a very good player. In possession he was very dynamic. He scored two and could have had more."

A sixth win in eight league games lifts United up to sixth and within three points of champion Manchester City in fourth.

Despite shelling out over 1 billion pounds ($1.26 billion) on new players in three transfer windows, Chelsea remains down in 10th.

Just five wins in his first 15 league games in charge has put Mauricio Pochettino under the spotlight.

But the former Tottenham boss used a lengthy injury list as mitigation for his slow start.

"We are a different project. We are not going to change what we have been saying from the beginning of the season," said Pochettino.

"Even with the players fit, it would be difficult but now with players out, it is very, very difficult."

Rashford gamble

Ten Hag had been under increasing scrutiny amid reports of dressing-room disquiet.

But his big decision to drop Marcus Rashford to the bench among four changes paid dividends as Ten Hag witnessed a far more energetic and enterprising display.

The Blues had goalkeeper Sanchez to thank for keeping them in the game by the interval.

United had 18 shots on goal before halftime — the most Chelsea has faced in one half in the Premier League for 20 years — but only had one goal to show for it.

A VAR intervention to award a penalty after Enzo Fernandez stood on Antony's foot gave the home side a glorious chance to open the scoring.

But Sanchez flew low to his right to parry Bruno Fernandes' spot-kick and Alejandro Garnacho blazed the rebound over.

United's determination to flood forward was also leaving gaps for Chelsea to exploit on the counterattack.

Mykhailo Mudryk struck the outside of the post and the Ukrainian should have sent Raheem Sterling clean through on goal but for a poor pass that ruined another promising break.

Sanchez was called into action once more to save a powerful effort from Garnacho, while Antony's wait to break a 24-match run without a goal goes on as he fired tamely into the Spanish international's arms.

Chelsea and Sanchez's resistance was finally broken when McTominay swept home his fifth goal of the season to become United's top scorer in this season's Premier League in the 19th minute.

The Scottish midfielder should have had a second moments later when his header from point-blank range and follow-up effort were both excellently saved by Sanchez.

And the host was made to pay as Chelsea equalized before halftime.

Cole Palmer was allowed to jink his way along the edge of the box and slotted into the far corner beyond Andre Onana's grasp.

United was quickly back on the front foot at the start of the second half.

Garnacho continued to curse his luck as a curling effort drifted narrowly wide.

However, the Argentine turned provider when he crossed for McTominay's winning header 21 minutes from time.

McTominay should have had a hat-trick when he skewed horribly wide with just Sanchez to beat.

United's profligacy gave Chelsea the chance to snatch a point in the closing stages, but Armando Broja headed against the crossbar.

That would have been more than the Blues deserved as Pochettino struggles to turn Chelsea's abundance of young talent into a functioning unit.


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