Manchester United were faster, smarter, smarter and classier than Nottingham Forest in their seventh successive victory over their visitors. This was close to a full performance: a combination of calculated attack, fast breaking and the constant attack of an opponent who finished him off exhausted and demoralised.
Given that United have scored just 20 Premier League goals at kickoff and there is limited funding in January to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s goal before Fred’s late interval was as good a tonic as the three points that kept them in first place. Spurs heels.
Freedom is another adjective to describe how, 23 years after United hammered Forest 8-1 at City Ground (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored four goals in 10 minutes), Erik ten Hag’s side applied a similar teaching to what was, for most of the competition, a Mancunian night. Rain-drenched classic.
Ten Hag said of the first Premier League game after the World Cup: “You always ask yourself after a break what will be the restart – the four defenders never played together and the player who never played at centre-back… and if you win three, And you didn’t shake a goal, you’re happy with the performance.”
Luke Shaw lined up to partner the excellent Raphael Varane against a Forest side who have won their past three matches (two in the League Cup): their best run of the season.
It looks like the sequence will most likely end from the moment United start dribbling the ball. Rashford, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka pulled Forest out of position and went close after they were joined by Christian Eriksen.
One of the dominant criticisms of Manchester United in the past decade has been how prominently they are a counter-attacking proposition, so another Rashford-Wan-Bissaka pattern that saw the latter swinging back – towards Martial – offered further encouragement.
The opening came from a corner on the right. Eriksen’s delivery – rolled along the turf – came from the coaches’ playbook and Rashford was there to grab a fifth goal of the competition.
United’s number 10 may be in the form of his career – as evidenced by his following. This time he turned inventive, making a sly pass to Martial who, from a distance, pulled the trigger. Hennessey jumped down and right and shot the ball over the line five times in nine games with the number 9.
Rashford was rampant. A yellow card draw by the Bulls, before a backwheel, a feathered touch, and a decisive charge that made Renan Lodi an amateur were other bursts of threat. He said, “I’m enjoying it.” “Every striker always has a number they want to reach, and I have to score more than I ever have in any season – that’s 22.”
Impressive was the woods he received from United at any given moment in possession – Casemiro, Varane and Eriksen were often caught in a herd. However, now, Willy Boley had the finishing touch on a piece of Lodi’s set to score. But, in the scrimmage, Ryan Yates’ header hit the centre-back’s leg, and after one of those VAR-like delays, that was overturned for an Ivorian offside.
United had 69.5% possession by the first half. This was definitely their match to close at the canter. The unplayable Rashford then emerged on the left and, using Martial’s run as a decoy, landed the ball at Fernandes’ feet. He used it right and the onrushing Anthony shouldn’t have allowed Hennessey to block his point-blank shot. Martial, too, hit Hennessey’s legs – Fernandes again the provider – as United played Cuper’s men.
He brought Donny van de Beek off the bench, fired a shot from Remo Freuler, Fernandez tried to volley Hennessy from halfway, Alejandro Garnacho (another substitute) ripped the left: that was a delightful display. Now came the third goal: Casemiro pushed the ball to Fred and another player from the manager’s substitutes scored. Forest manager Steve Cooper said: “Disappointment is my reflection.
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