Rashford eases Manchester United to first match victory over Nottingham Forest

That only Erling Haaland has scored more goals than Marcus Rashford among Premier League players in all competitions this season puts the England forward’s progress into perspective as his 18th of the season allowed Manchester United to place one foot in the Carabao Cup final.

If Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal curtailed any optimistic dreams of Premier League glory, perhaps it served to whet Erik ten Hag’s appetite to land a more realistic target of silverware in the cups. His first XI made short work of Nottingham Forest in the first leg of this semi-final as further goals from Wout Weghorst and Bruno Fernandes gave them a comfortable cushion ahead of next Wednesday’s return at Old Trafford.

Related: Ten Hag pays tribute to ‘unstoppable’ Rashford as Manchester United set foot in the final

Casemiro, back from suspension at the Emirates, leaned forward in United’s midfield but it was Rashford’s brilliant directness that helped separate them from opponents, now free to focus on retaining their Premier League status.

Forest played well enough in the first half, but Fernandes’ third goal a minute from time, when he slotted home a low drive after being picked out by Anthony Elanga, provided a measure of the difference between these teams.

Rashford trails Haaland’s current tally of 31 goals by more than United trail Arsenal in points in the league, but it is momentum that is as encouraging as anything for Ten Hag as he tries to end United’s six-year wait for a trophy . It was in this competition and then against these opponents, in the week around Christmas, that Rashford’s hot streak began. Helping knock Burnley out of the Carabao Cup and then starting the earlier 3-0 rout of Forest at Old Trafford showed a man seemingly back at the top of his game. How he has moved on since then. The opener here was his 10th goal in 10 games since the World Cup and he can make the game look so simple.

There didn’t seem to be much danger when Lisandro Martínez, close to his own byline, found Fernandes. His pass invited Rashford to set off from inside his own half; still, Skov didn’t look too upset. Maybe they should have been. Rashford ran at Remo Freuler and Joe Worrall, then in between them before drilling the ball onto his left foot to place a finish between Wayne Hennessey and his near post.

Rashford became the first United player to reach five goals in a League Cup campaign since Carlos Tevez scored six in 2008-09. “There are other players who are playing really well,” Ten Hag said. “But I’m really happy for Marcus.”

Wout Weghorst scores his first Manchester United goal against Nottingham Forest. Photo: Tim Goode/PA

Forest almost hit back, leaving Ten Hag with a key point to warn his players about afterwards. Bravely leaving three men up even when United attacked, the home side took advantage when Danilo sent off Morgan Gibbs-White. He waited – too long as it turned out – to send wide for Sam Surridge to side-foot neatly into the bottom corner with his right foot. VAR ruled the forward, fresh from his equalizer at Bournemouth on Saturday, offside with a knee. “There shouldn’t have been offside,” said Steve Cooper, the Forest manager. “There was time to do it right.”

This gave Forest heart, however, and when Gibbs-White’s corner was cleared by David de Gea, Gustavo Scarpa volleyed home from just outside the penalty area. The United keeper parried away to safety. Brennan Johnson also got free down his preferred inside-right channel, but his first effort was saved low by De Gea and the second he blasted off the near post.

Related: Rashford’s full-tilt reset after Ten Hag reshaped United’s headspace

The game became more and more end-to-end, a second goal looked imminent and when Antony combined well with Weghorst to break free, Hennessey, deputizing for the ineligible and injured Dean Henderson, made the save. excellent.

However, United put the game to bed in the 45th minute. Antony, who had started the move with a neat ball around the corner to Casemiro, received a delayed return before shooting. Hennessey parried and Weghorst poked the ball high into the net on the rebound for his first United goal.

Whether Forest were brave or naive in abandoning the attacking approach, it helped make this game a spectacle. Christian Eriksen curled a beautiful shot towards the angle of the bar and post at one end, before Gibbs-White stole possession from Casemiro and slotted a left-footed shot at the other.

After receiving a punch to the ribs from Serge Aurier, Rashford’s night, in front of the watching England coaching duo of Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland, was over. He was replaced by Alejandro Garnacho. United had already done enough.

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