NOTTINGHAM, England — Manchester United are just 90 minutes away from the Carabao Cup final after sealing a 3-0 semifinal first-leg win against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
– Report: Nottingham Forest 0-3 Man United
Goals from Marcus Rashford, Wout Weghorst and Bruno Fernandes were enough to give United a commanding lead going into next Wednesday’s second leg at Old Trafford.
The tie could have been much closer had Sam Surridge’s first-half goal, which would have made it 1-1, not been ruled out for offside by VAR. But United were comfortable throughout and can now start to look forward to a Wembley clash with Newcastle or Southampton next month.
JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Rashford shines again to take United to brink of a Wembley final
Marcus Rashford made it 10 goals in 10 games for Manchester United as Erik ten Hag’s team put themselves to within reach of the Carabao Cup final and hopefully end a run of three successive domestic cup semifinal exits.
United must complete the formality of next Wednesday’s second leg at Old Trafford, but having failed to win a trophy since the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2017, the club are now within touching distance of ending that barren run. And it was in-form Rashford who set United on their way to victory, scoring a sixth-minute opener after receiving the ball inside the United half before racing past Joe Worrall and Remo Freuler to score.
Wout Weghorst’s first United goal since arriving on loan from Burnley earlier this month and a late Bruno Fernandes strike completed the scoring.
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After losing three straight domestic semifinals under former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ten Hag is set to win his first for the club and potentially win the first trophy available to him as manager. The historians might also point to Sir Alex Ferguson beating Forest on the way to his first trophy as United manager in the FA Cup in 1990. But while United and Ten Hag have still to win anything, the manner of this victory was further evidence that the team are back on track after so many years of under-performing.
United were always in control and the 3-0 scoreline did not flatter them. They could have won by more, but it barely matters: Forest won’t come back from this and United are on the way to Wembley again.
2. Antony continues to be an enigma
Antony has become the subject of great debate on social media because of his lack of form for Manchester United in recent weeks. It seems there are two camps — one that regards the £85 million signing from Ajax as an overpriced flop, and another that believes he will come good once he adjusts to English football.
So far in a United shirt, Antony has scored seven goals in 23 appearances and registered two assists. Wout Weghorst’s goal at Forest came after goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey had pushed out Antony’s shot, so the Brazil winger can point to that as another key contribution. Those numbers aren’t bad for a player just six months into his career at a new club, but it is easy to see why the 22-year-old frustrates so many.
Antony is extremely one-footed — he barely ever touches the ball with his right foot — and opponents have quickly worked out that the quickest way to nullify his threat is by forcing him outside and onto his right foot. He also lacks the devastating pace and strength of a player like Arjen Robben, who was also heavily reliant on his left foot, and yet Antony still finds himself at the heart of plenty of United’s attacks.
Manager Erik ten Hag pushed United hard to sign Antony from Ajax last summer. It was a deal the club were reluctant to do because of the fee involved, but they backed their new manager’s judgement nonetheless. However, of all Ten Hag’s summer signings, Antony is the one with most to do to prove himself at United.
There is clearly something there, but he is nowhere near the finished article and everyone connected to United will have to be patient with Antony to give him chance to realise his potential.
3. Forest’s young talent gives them optimism in a relegation battle
Nottingham Forest have exceeded expectations by reaching the Carabao Cup semifinals, but their priority this season has to be cementing their place in the Premier League ahead of reaching a Wembley final. And although they were beaten by United in this semifinal first leg, Steve Cooper’s team showed enough to suggest they will be successful in their bid to avoid dropping out of the Premier League after just one season back in the top flight.
Two big reasons for optimism at the City Ground are youngsters Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson, who were both outstanding against United.
Johnson, 21, has a real football pedigree with his father, David, enjoying a successful career at Forest after initially breaking through alongside David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville in United’s famed Class of ’92. He could fly even higher than his dad if he maintains the electric pace that troubled United all night. With such a crucial attribute, Johnson can be a key figure for Forest over the remaining months of the season and go on to enjoy lengthy career at the top.
Gibbs-White is another with a great future. The 22-year-old, a club record £42.5m signing from Wolves last summer, gave Forest energy and presence in midfield and looked completely at ease against United’s Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes.
Forest will have a tough task keeping both players at the club, but if they help keep them up this season, they will already have delivered in a big way for the team.
Best and worst performers
Marcus Rashford, FW, Man United: Another great goal by the United forward who has now scored 10 in 10 games since returning from the World Cup. No player in Europe’s big five leagues can better that statistic.
Morgan Gibbs-White, MF, Nottingham Forest: The Forest midfielder showed just why the club made him their £42.5 million record signing from Wolves last summer. Box-to-box energy and dominated Casemiro at times.
Victor Lindelof, DF, Man United: A rare start for the Sweden defender, but after looking completely unreliable and shorn of confidence under previous managers, Lindelof played as though he has been liberated under Erik ten Hag.
Joe Worrall, DF, Nottingham Forest: The Forest captain completely lost Rashford for United’s opening goal. Woeful defending by the full-back.
Bruno Fernandes, MF, Man United: Displayed some nice touches, but was too often guilty of over-complicating things when in possession. Takes too many touches when he could play a simple pass.
Scott McKenna, DF, Nottingham Forest: A bad night for the Forest centre-half. Struggled to contain Wout Weghorst, despite trying every physical trick in the book. Just looked like a player out of his depth.
Highlights and notable moments
Rashford’s form continued with another well-taken goal. How long will this go on?
There was also a nice moment for new arrival Weghorst, who notched his first career goal for Man United after fine approach play by Antony.
We also got a moment of hilarity off the pitch, too …
After the match: What the players/managers said
“I am really happy with the job of the guys. We played so well and controlled the game. But we have many things to improve. We lost the last game. We never give up. We have to keep going. We showed discipline. We were very focused. We have to always play like this, to keep going, to keep fighting. We deserved the result. It’s a good result for us, but we have to go step by step, we have another game, and we have to prepare again.” — Man United defender Lisandro Martinez, talking to Sky Sports
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Marcus Rashford: First Man United player to score 5-plus goals in a single League Cup season since Carlos Tevez in 2008-09 (6)
Marcus Rashford: This was his 13th career goal in Carabao Cup, snapping a tie with UEFA Champions League (12) for his most in a single cup competition (domestic or international).
Bruno Fernandes: Three goals in his past 4 games in all comps; matches his goal total from his first 25 games this season for the club
From Stats Perform: This is the 3rd time that both League Cup semifinal first legs were won by the road team (also 1972-73 and 1992-93)
Manchester United: Extend winning streak vs. Nottingham Forest to eight games (dates back to 1996), outscored Forest 32-3 in that span. That is the longest such streak in series history which dates back to 1892; Forest’s last win was Dec. 1994 in PL at Old Trafford
Nottingham Forest: Eight-game home unbeaten streak snapped; Wednesday was their first home loss since Sept. 16 vs. Fulham
Nottingham Forest: Steve Cooper’s side get a break this weekend due to the FA Cup, but they face United in the return leg at Old Trafford on Feb. 1 before a home date with Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United on Feb. 5 in the Premier League.
Manchester United: The pace doesn’t slow up any time soon for Erik ten Hag and his in-form team. They host Reading (FA Cup, fourth round) on Jan. 28 before the return leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal with Forest on Feb. 1. From there, they get just a couple of days’ rest before their next league clash, a home game vs. Crystal Palace, on Feb. 4.
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