Manchester United took total control of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest with a 3-0 win in the first leg at The City Ground.
Marcus Rashford’s stunning solo goal opened the scoring before Wout Weghorst’s first goal in a United shirt followed by Bruno Fernandes’ late third put Erik ten Hag’s team in a commanding position ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.
Forest competed throughout on a noisy night by the Trent and thought they had an equaliser in the first half only for Sam Surridge’s attempt to be ruled out for offside. But it was the United supporters singing of Wembley and dreaming of ending their six-year wait for a trophy.
Nottingham Forest: Hennessey (5), Aurier (6), Worrall (5), McKenna (6), Lodi (5), Freuler (5), Scarpa (6), Danilo (7), Gibbs-White (7), Johnson (6), Surridge (6).
Subs: Colback (6), Lingard (6), Dennis (5), O’Brien (6), Williams (6).
Manchester United: De Gea (6), Wan-Bissaka (6), Lindelof (7), Martinez (8), Malacia (6), Casemiro (7), Eriksen (7), Fernandes (7), Antony (7), Rashford (8), Weghorst (8).
Subs: Garnacho (6), Fred (6), Pellistri (6).
Player of the match: Lisandro Martinez.
How United won on the night
Both sets of supporters made for a boisterous atmosphere, the sniff of silverware enough to excite everyone after years of Manchester City and Liverpool dominating this competition. But it did not take long for United to assert themselves thanks to the in-form Rashford.
He had already had a couple of early opportunities to run at the Forest defence but he saved his most spectacular work for the build-up to the opening goal, gliding beyond Remo Freuler and Joe Worrall from deep, riding the ricochets and finishing with his left foot.
It is now 10 goals in 10 games for Rashford and even the decision to run at the defence with such purpose speaks volumes for the England forward’s confidence right now. Forest had to regroup and the night might have been different had the next big call gone their way.
Rashford’s loose pass allowed Morgan Gibbs-White to break and it seemed as if his pass to Surridge had been expertly timed for the forward to caress the ball into the far corner of David de Gea’s net. The replays showed that Surridge was just offside.
Forest’s push for an equaliser had the crowd up, Gustavo Scarpa’s wicked volley forcing a smart save and Brennan Johnson looking dangerous in the right channel. But Weghorst’s goal just before half-time tested the belief of even the most fervent of Forest fans.
Wayne Hennessey, deputising for Dean Henderson, saved the first attempt from Antony but could only push the ball into the path of Weghorst who did well to keep the ball down in beating the goalkeeper. The Dutchman deserved it for his intelligent performance.
His hold-up play was superb, making those around him better by encouraging them to follow their passes in the knowledge that he will find them. The third was coming, Christian Eriksen striking the frame of the goal, but it was Fernandes who found it.
His low strike from just inside the box late in the game gives Forest some clarity. Their thoughts will soon turn to staying in the Premier League. For United, the prospect of a final against Newcastle or Southampton offers the chance to end that trophy drought.
Player of the match: Lisandro Martinez
“He has got pride in his defending,” Roy Keane told Sky Sports. “You’ve seen his character and his desire. He wants to defend. He’s the kind of person you want to be in the trenches with. From a defender’s point of view they’ll be delighted with a clean sheet.”
‘Very comfortable for United’
“It was very comfortable for United,” said Keane. “They will be delighted with that. A clean sheet and three goals. Forest lacked quality. They were too open and gave away the goals as such bad times. Manchester United fans can start getting ready for Wembley.”
Keane: ‘Rashford is peaking’
“Sometimes it is about confidence. That is where he is peaking now. He is played a lot of games for United and big games for England in the last few years.
“Sometimes the penny drops for a player in terms of decision-making and putting the ball in the back of the net. And they have needed him.
“The question mark I have had over Marcus in the last few years is, has he got that personality to step up to the plate?
“United have had some great strikers over the years, and I think they need someone like that. Marcus has to say he wants that responsibility to be the main man. The best players turn up week in and week out. It looks like he is now enjoying that responsibility, which is great to see.”
Ten Hag credits Weghorst impact
“For strikers it is always important,” said Ten Hag when asked about Weghorst’s first goal for the club.
“I think he did a great job against Crystal Palace and Arsenal with pressing and [being a] target, his movements.
“I think the goal of Bruno at Crystal Palace, he was part of it because he makes the right movement to the front post. The goal of Rashford against Arsenal, he was part of it. He made the space for Rashford by dragging the centre-half away.
“But strikers are there to score goals and when they don’t score goals they are not happy. It was important for his confidence. This was one of the ways that he can score goals, by being in the box and being present.”
Cooper cannot hide disappointment
“It is a really disappointing scoreline,” said the Forest boss. “With the two-legged affair, the last thing you want to do is go to the second leg at Old Trafford with 3-0 defeat. Just the manner of the goals, the timing of them and how they have come about.
“Rashford is one of the most in-form players in the country so for us to allow him to do what he did is disappointing. The second goal we have come off the game plan.
“Even the third one. I would still have been saying a lot of the same things, but to concede late on and maybe not recognise it for what it is and think that you can set clear objectives for the second leg…
“I know we have played some good football in the first half and had a marginal goal disallowed but we should not be offside because we had the time and space to get that right.
“The naivety of the timing of the goals is something that has made it incredibly tough for the second leg. It was our own doing. The goals, we have to do better.”
United’s win in stats
- Manchester United are the first side ever to win eight consecutive meetings with Nottingham Forest in all competitions.
- Nottingham Forest lost a League Cup semi-final game for the very first time, in what was their 13th match at this stage of the competition.
- Nottingham Forest suffered their first defeat at the City Ground since September, ending a run of eight home games without a loss in all competitions.
- Marcus Rashford has scored 10 goals in 10 games for Manchester United in all competitions since the 2022 World Cup finished, the most of any player for clubs in Europe’s big-five leagues in this time.
- Rashford has scored 18 goals in all club competitions this season; only Erling Haaland (31) has netted more for a Premier League club.
- Wout Weghorst was the first player to score his first competitive goal for Manchester United in the League Cup since Andreas Pereira against Ipswich in September 2015.
- Bruno Fernandes registered his 100th goal involvement for Manchester United in all competitions, scoring 56 and assisting 44.
Nottingham Forest are already out of the FA Cup so have a free weekend. As a result, their next game is the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Manchester United on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 8pm.
Forest then host Leeds in the Premier League on Sunday February 5, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm.
Manchester United are next in action on Saturday when they host Reading in the FA Cup; kick-off 8pm.
Erik ten Hag’s side then host Forest at Old Trafford on Wednesday, with a place in the Carabao Cup final on the line.