Manchester United took a firm grip on their Carabao Cup semi-final tie against Nottingham Forest with a 3-0 first-leg win at The City Ground this evening.
Erik ten Hag’s men were again indebted to Marcus Rashford, the in-form forward netting his 10th goal across 10 matches in all competitions since returning from Qatar last month, as well as newcomer Wout Weghorst and captain Bruno Fernandes. To put this in some further context Rashord is the first player based in one of Europe’s top-five leagues since the World Cup break to reach double figures. “What form he’s in,” Gary Neville would exclaim on Sky Sports commentary.
His sixth-minute opener was a fifth of the competition making him the first United player to score as many in a single League Cup campaign since Carlo Tevez with six during the 2008/09 season.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 25, 2023
It also came a day after head coach Ten Hag urged him to remain at Old Trafford and restore the 20-time English champions’ past glories. The academy graduate’s present deal expires in June 2024 and there’s been reported interest from elsewhere.
“This is the best place to be because we want to construct the best team – first in England, then Europe, then the world,” the Dutchman told reporters. “It is confidential, talks between clubs and players, [but] he understands Manchester United is his club and also in this environment, this team, he is playing his best football. He is improving, he is giving 100%.
“He can bring his qualities and this team can help him be in the right position to score goals. The team is constructed so that his qualities come to the fore. He knows he is important for us and if we want to succeed we need him.”
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This season has already proven to be a marked difference from the last as Rashford could only manage five strikes in 32 appearances. He’s already bagged 18 which is a few away from his best-ever return (22 across 44 matches in 2019/20). After some uncertainty, the England international has transformed into United’s most important player, with perhaps Casemiro his only challenger for that honorific.
If the Mancunian nets against Reading in the FA Cup third round later this week then he would break a long-standing club record. His recent strike against Manchester City saw him score in nine consecutive home games, matching the feat of Dennis Viollet, who did the same in 1959.
For how well he’s playing, Rashford cannot solely carry United’s attacking burden, in recent weeks the likes of Christian Eriksen, Anthony Martial, Fred, Casemiro, Luke Shaw, Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Lisandro Martínez have stepped up. Dutch marksman Weghorst — reportedly signed for his work rate and pressing performances — is the latest to join this group.
Marcus Rashford’s game by numbers vs. Nottingham Forest:
100% shot accuracy
100% take-ons completed
2 x possession won
In the form of his life. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/r93ACgCvNE
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 25, 2023
Weghorst’s effort came on the stroke of half-time and 22 minutes after Sam Surridge’s goal was disallowed for offside. Roy Keane, formerly a servant of both clubs, lamented Forest’s defending. “Man United haven’t had to work too hard for either goal, Forest have been too open. Talk about schoolboy defending after the first five or six minutes. Shocking.”
As Keane touched upon United wasn’t exactly dominant throughout with Forest often testing David de Gea on several occasions. Morgan Gibbs-White put in a notable shift with the former Wolves midfielder standing respectably toe-to-toe with Casemiro at times picking the Brazilian’s pocket. But in the end, United was able to convert at least three of their chances, Fernandes sealing a commanding first-leg performance in the 89th minute. His 100th goal involvement (56 goals and 44 assists) across 155 matches played since joining three years ago this month.
Barring an unthinkable second-leg collapse at Old Trafford, where both teams reconvene in a week’s time, United have all but sealed their place in this season’s final.