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One day you're barring journalists from the training ground, desperately battling to win the PR war and convince your skeptics that there is a vision for the future. The next you find yourself three points off the English and European champions. Crisis club? That's old news around Old Trafford. Keep up.

Experience will tell Erik ten Hag that in no time at all the story will shift around his many-faced side. There might be no team in the Premier League as capable of rising from the depths they plumbed at Newcastle United to the invigorating excesses of Wednesday's 2-1 win over Chelsea. For all that this manager has worked to instill discipline off the field, the tale of this club post-Sir Alex Ferguson is of a dramatic surfeit of it on the field. There is no minimum standard that this United squad can be relied on to deliver. Equally, when the mood takes them, they can deliver performances as impressive as tonight's. 

This was as ringing an endorsement of Ten Hag as his players could offer. All the brief instances of excellence and promising outlines that the manager saw of late were altogether more visible for the rest of the world as Chelsea, devoid of energy and organization, were rifled through. United didn't control this contest. Indeed they spent much of the closing encounters camped in their own third as Reece James cannoned in ferocious crosses. Perhaps they simply cannot be a team who exerts their will on the game.

No wonder when their midfield comprised a ball winner with little in the way of progressive qualities on it, a front-footed playmaker whose frequent giveaways are made up for by the chances he creates and, well, whatever Scott McTominay has turned himself into. Here was a match-winning midfielder who ended the game with more shots than forward passes, who recovered possession as many times as he scored.

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This is not orthodox midfield play but it worked to a tee. McTominay has a striker's instinct for where the space might emerge in the box. He ended the game with two classic center forward's goals, snaffling up the rebound from Harry Maguire's blocked effort and darting in at the back post to meet an excellent cross by Alejandro Garnacho. He might have had plenty more from his other shots. Robert Sanchez's double save denied him at close range while he should have done better with a rare smart pass from Antony, skewing a right-footed effort wide.

McTominay was not alone in finishing profligately. United could and should have turned their 28 shots and 4.26 expected goals into an unassailable lead well before the final whistle. Bruno Fernandes' missed a blasé penalty in the ninth minute but that early error did at least focus what can be a wandering mind. From then on, he fizzed across the field, always inventive but never cavalier. That spot kick was won for Fernandes by Antony, the rare occasion where his insistence on only playing with his left foot paid off. Aside from that, the Brazilian let too many good moments slip away. 

The same could be said for United's opposition. For a team that seemed to have no vision for how it was going to score, Chelsea had all sorts of chances to puncture the Old Trafford rearguard. Too many of them came to Mykhailo Mudryk, a player whose feet seem to be 12 yards ahead of his mind. Too many passes are being overhit, too many touches run beyond even his pace. Cole Palmer's elegant precision, typified when he rolled an equalizer beyond Andre Onana just before the interval, only heightens the sense of how far off the pace Mudryk is.

It helps none of the forwards that so much behind them is out of sync. Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez seem to need Conor Gallagher alongside them to truly excel. Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, seems unsure of his best back four. Whatever it is, surely Marc Cucurella is not its right back? This Chelsea side could only add further chaos to the occasion. In doing so, they played right into United's hands.

You would not confuse United with a side that will be as close to Manchester City at the end of the season as they are now. It was, however, maybe the best that this untameable team can be. The energy that saw Marcus Rashford, dropped to the bench after such diffidence in defeat to Newcastle, harrying the Chelsea center backs has a value distinct to the steady control of those above United in the table. You're not competing for a Premier League title attempting to harness this elemental fury. You might not even finish in the top four.

On the infrequent occasions where it all clicks, however, it really can make for an awful lot of fun. That is what United delivered for Old Trafford on Wednesday, timed just for when Ten Hag most needed it.