Marcus Rashford leads way as Manchester United cruise to victory

MANCHESTER UNITED 3 (Rashford 19, Martial 22, Fred 87) NOTTINGHAM FOREST 0

Manchester United were faster, sharper, smarter, and classier than Nottingham Forest in recording this seventh straight win over their visitors. Erik ten Hag continues to do what he professes he must: refuse to accept his team are near to the real deal and strive to move it closer to an elite side.

This was, though, approaching the complete performance: a blend of measured attacking and rapid breaks and the constant harrying of an opponent who ended exhausted and demoralised.

Given United had scored only 20 Premier League goals at kickoff and there is limited finance in January to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, a strike apiece from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial before Fred’s late clincher is as fine a tonic as the three points which keeps them on the heels of Tottenham.

Freedom is one more adjective to describe how, 23 years after United spanked Forest 8-1 at the City Ground (Ole Gunnar Solskjær scoring four in 10 minutes), this Ten Hag vintage applied a similar schooling to Forest on what was, for most of the contest, a classic rain-lashed Mancunian night.

The Dutchman had Scott McTominay and Victor Lindelöf out ill and Harry Maguire only a substitute as he recovered from his own sickness, so Luke Shaw lined up at centre-back versus a Forest side who had won their past three matches (two in the League Cup): their finest run of the campaign.

The sequence appeared likely to end from the moment United began rolling the ball about in an authoritative manner that will please Ten Hag. Rashford, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka spun Forest out of position and went close to scoring after Christian Eriksen joined them. The Dane found United’s right-back and when Wan-Bassaka crossed a charged-down Rashford shot bounced to Tyrell Malacia. He blazed at goal and Wayne Hennessey squeezed the ball on to his right post and Steve Cooper’s side escaped.

This possession-hogging mode combined with the chiselling of an opening is progress in itself, as a prevailing criticism of United in the past decade has been how they are preeminently a counterattacking proposition and so another Rashford-Wan-Bissaka pattern that again had the latter pinging over – towards Martial – offered further encouragement.

The relaxed manner of Thursday’s Carabao Cup win against Burnley here showed, too, another facet Ten Hag wishes to add permanently: the ability to notch a regulation win. Forest, second-bottom, offered a chance of a repeat and United’s opener suggested this would occur.

Another move that began around the Forest area claimed a corner on the right. Eriksen’s delivery – rolled short along the turf – came out of the coaches’ playbook and there was Rashford to hammer home for a fifth in the competition.

United’s No 10 may be in the form of his storied career – as his next act showed. This time he turned creator, sliding a crafty pass to Martial who, at range, pulled the trigger. Hennessey dived low and right and spilled the ball over the line and this was 2-0 and five in nine appearances for the No 9.

Rashford was rampant. A bullocking run drew a yellow card, before a backheel, a feathered touch, and an incisive charge that cast Renan Lodi as amateurish were further dashes of menace.

As impressive was the hounding Forest received from United in any moment of possession – Casemiro, Raphael Varane and Eriksen often hunting in a pack. Yet, now, football’s capriciousness was displayed when Willy Boly got the last touch on a Lodi set piece from the left to score. But, in a melee, Ryan Yates’s header had hit the centre-back’s leg and following one of those age-like VAR delays this was chalked off for the Ivorian standing offside.

When the teams changed ends United were at 69.5% possession. This was definitely their match to close out at a canter and this they would do. At a Forest corner, those in red broke, Antony failing to find Martial, before Fernandes took over, his effort hitting the side-netting. Orel Mangala did the same from a Serge Aurier pass but this was only a second Forest attempt and neither had worked David de Gea.

The unplayable Rashford next popped up on the left and, using Martial’s run as a decoy, landed the ball at Fernandes’s feet. He tapped it right and the onrushing Antony should not have allowed Hennessey to repel his close-range shot. Martial, too, smacked off Hennessey’s legs from close – Fernandes again the provider – as United toyed with Cooper’s men.

Donny van de Beek, a replacement, lashed a left-foot shot off Remo Freuler, Fernandes tried to lob Hennessey from near halfway, and Alejandro Granacho (another substitute) ripped down the left: this was a joyous display that has become a United rarity. Now came the third: Casemiro prodded the ball to Fred and another of the manager’s changes had scored.

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane (Maguire 77), Shaw, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen (Fred 77), Antony (Garnacho 65), Bruno Fernandes, Rashford (Elanga 86), Martial (van de Beek 65).

Nottingham Forest: Hennessey, Aurier (Williams 74), Worrall, Boly, Renan Lodi (Toffolo 62), Yates, Freuler, Mangala (Dennis 63), Johnson, Lingard (O’Brien 53), Awoniyi (Surridge 62).

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).


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