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Monday, January 30, 2023

Rashford outstanding in Manchester United’s cruise past Nottingham Forest

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Manchester United were faster, sharper, smarter, and classier than Nottingham Forest in this seventh straight win over their visitors. This was 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 was as fine a tonic as the three points which keep 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 Erik ten Hag side applied a similar schooling on what was, for most of the contest, a classic rain-lashed Mancunian night.

Of this first post-World Cup Premier League outing Ten Hag said: “You always question yourself after a break what will be the restart – the back four never played together and a player who never played in a centre-back position … and if you win three, concede no goal, you are happy with the performance.”

Luke Shaw lined up to partner the excellent Raphaël Varane 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. Rashford, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka spun Forest out of position and went close to scoring after Christian Eriksen joined them.

A prevailing criticism of United in the past decade has been how they are pre-eminently a counterattacking proposition and so another Rashford-Wan-Bissaka pattern that again had the latter pinging over – towards Martial – offered further encouragement.

The opener came from a corner on the right. Eriksen’s delivery – rolled along the turf – came out of the coaches’ playbook and there was Rashford to hammer home for a fifth in the competition.

Fred celebrates after scoring the third goal against Nottingham Forest
Fred celebrates after scoring the third goal against Nottingham Forest. Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

United’s No 10 may be in the form of his career – as his next act further evidenced. This time he turned creator, sliding a crafty pass to Martial who, from range, pulled the trigger. Hennessey dived low and right and spilled the ball over the line for 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. “I’m enjoying it,” he said. “Every forward always has a number they want to try to reach, and mine is to score more than I ever have before in a season – that’s 22.”

As impressive was the hounding Forest received from United in any moment of possession – Casemiro, Varane and Eriksen often hunting in a pack. Yet, now, Willy Boly got the last touch on a Lodi set piece to score. But, in the 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.

United had 69.5% possession by half-time. This was definitely their match to close out at a canter. 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 – Fernandes again the provider – as United toyed with Cooper’s men.

Donny van de Beek, brought off the bench, lashed a shot off Remo Freuler, Fernandes tried to lob Hennessey from halfway, and Alejandro Garnacho (another substitute) ripped down the left: this was a joyous display. Now came the third: Casemiro prodded the ball to Fred and another of the manager’s substitutes had scored. “Disappointment is my reflection,” Steve Cooper, Forest’s manager, said.

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