Erik ten Hag takes Manchester United to Wembley with chance to end six-year trophy drought
By James Ducker, Northern Football Correspondent at Old Trafford
This time last year, the mood at Manchester United was positively toxic. The club was on their third manager of the campaign, they would soon be out of all three cup competitions in addition to being hopelessly adrift in the Premier League, the football was awful, the players had lost all stomach for a fight and there was mutiny in the stands.
The turnaround in eight months under Erik ten Hag, then, has been startling and, while there is a long way to go before anyone can say with any conviction that United are back, the Dutchman has wasted no time propelling the club back into contention for honours.
Newcastle now stand between United and a first trophy for six years, at Wembley on Feb 26, when old money will meet new, and Ten Hag will hope the League Cup can be a springboard to bigger things in a way it once was for Sir Alex Ferguson. Of course, there are no guarantees of that.
United hoped League Cup success would prove a launchpad back in 2017 under Jose Mourinho, who also won the Europa League three months later. Yet it was not too long before United were back at square one and in desperate need of reinvigoration.
The Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bounce did not last but Ten Hag’s rebuild looks to have much sturdier foundations. Nottingham Forest never looked like pulling off an unexpected comeback here.
Three down from the first leg, the damage had been done at the City Ground last week and the outcome was a foregone conclusion even before two goals in three second-half minutes from Anthony Martial and Fred.
Arguably more pleasing than the goals for United, though, was the return of Jadon Sancho for the first time in over three months after a “reset” period to address his physical and mental condition.
The winger’s introduction just after the hour mark, as part of a triple substitution with Martial and Marcus Rashford that galvanised United, was greeted with a huge roar.
The only concession was Rashford on the bench, otherwise it was close to a full strength side. There was no place in the squad for Austria midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, the deadline day loan signing from Bayern Munich, but, in addition to Sancho, Martial was back in the fold after missing the past four matches through injury.
It is hard to believe Ten Hag will not make more effective use of his squad over the coming weeks given the congested schedule and the risk of burn out later in the campaign with United still fighting on four fronts. But the message here was clear: start strong, focus and get the job done.
But the message here was clear: start strong, focus and get the job done. United were not great in the first half but did not need to be yet could have nicked the lead in stoppage time when Antony cut the ball back for Casemiro and his clipped cross was headed against a post by Wout Weghorst.
Forest lost the former United forward Jesse Lingard to an injury in the warm-up, which saw Emmanuel Dennis drafted into the starting XI, but their biggest weapon, much like the first leg, was the pace and running of Brennan Johnson.
He had a shot saved and teed up Dennis only for Sam Surridge to get in the way of his team-mate’s goal bound effort but Forest could not sustain that threat.
Alejandro Garnacho forced a good save from Wayne Hennessey in the second half but moments before then United’s Argentine forward appeared to say something to Johnson that left the Forest forward visibly angered and the Forest captain Remo Freuler seeking out the referee.
There was a Var check for a possible red card that came to nothing but Johnson left the field soon afterwards. Steve Cooper, the Forest manager, pointedly refused to comment on the incident afterwards.
The Old Trafford crowd were desperate to see Sancho on the pitch again and his first appearance since Oct 22 was warmly received. If he can find form over the next few months the manager may come to view it as a new signing. “I think it was great the reception from the fans to him and that backing will give him even more of a boost in the way he’s now acting,” Ten Hag said.
Sancho’s arrival with Rashford and Martial helped to greatly sharpen United’s attack and the deadlock was finally broken when Casemiro released Martial to bear down on the Forest defence in tandem with Rashford.
His pass to Rashford was not the best but from a blocked shot the ball fell kindly for the Frenchman to rifle into the bottom corner. “We have had to make lots of compromises in the season so far [with injuries and absentees] but if you want to win trophies, you need them all to be available.”
Ten Hag said. “You saw tonight you can bring a new dynamic off the bench.” One quickly became two when Fernandes sprayed a lovely pass with the outside of his right boot to Rashford to square for Fred to tap into an empty net. Ten Hag’s revolution continues to gather momentum.
Bruno Fernandes on where he learnt his outside of the foot pass
The secret to Bruno Fernandes' assists...
"I learned from Quaresma" 😉 pic.twitter.com/ogJWJIyX8D
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 1, 2023
Luke Shaw on United's season and facing Newcastle
We want to get this club back to where it should be which is winning trophies. Newcastle are an extremely good team but it's a big moment for us in where we want to go.
Ten Hag on United's performance
First half, it wasn't great to be honest. It was professional but the tempo was too slow. We didn't create chances and also allowed them two chances.
Second half was much better, higher tempo and the chances came.
Roy Keane on Ten Hag reaching first final
He'll be delighted to get his first final, hopefully one of many.
They were comfortable in both games. Forest very disappointing, lacking quality and probably belief.
FT: Manchester United 2 Nottingham Forest 0 (5-0, agg)
Manchester United will play Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, which is a chance to end a six-year trophy drought.
The hard work was done at the City Ground. Forest were much-improved in the first 45 minutes tonight, but they could not cope with United's slick football once Ten Hag brough on Martial, Rashford and Sancho in the second half.
The return of Sancho, after an extended period on an individual training regime, is a real positive from the night.
89 minutes: Manchester United 2 Nottingham Forest 0 (5-0, agg)
Forest fans still singing the name of their manager, they know that their season is not at stake this evening. A big home game to come on Sunday against Leeds United.
Just the one minute of added time to play.
85 minutes: Manchester United 2 Nottingham Forest 0 (5-0, agg)
Forest making another couple of changes: youngsters Hammond and Osong coming on for Scarpa and Surridge. The game is winding down to its inevitable conclusion now.
Sancho, Martial and Fernandes linking up around the edge of the box again, but Fernandes flashes a shot wide of the far post. He should have cut the ball back to Sancho.
82 minutes: Manchester United 2 Nottingham Forest 0 (5-0, agg)
Ten Hag will be pleased with his team's seriousness and professionalism. Shaw still harrying at this late stage to win them a corner.
Then Forest threaten on the counter. Danilo broke through and his shot was well saved by the left-hand of Heaton, but Surridge could not keep the rebound down with the full game to aim at.
79 minutes: Manchester United 2 Nottingham Forest 0 (5-0, agg)
Ten Hag's attacking changes have seen them blow Forest away. Cooper's team were doing well to be just about competitive, but the increase in speed and quality has just been too much for them.
More United changes: Casemiro and Varane off, Maguire and Lindelof on.
GOOOOAAALL! Fred scores, but Fernandes the creator
Fred and Sancho were involved in the build-up to spread play to Fernandes on the right. He crossed the ball to the back post with the outside of his right foot where Rashford hooked the ball across goal. With Hennessey nowhere, Fred just had to let the ball hit him. 5-0 on aggregate.
75 minutes: Manchester United 1 Nottingham Forest 0 (4-0, agg)
United now have their first-choice forwards on the pitch, fresh and attacking tired Forest defenders. This could be a heavy defeat if they are not careful.
GOOOOAAALL! Martial gives United the lead on the night
Martial scores on his first appearance since the Manchester derby to make it 4-0 on aggregate.
Forest a little unlucky that a challenge in midfield broke for Martial to run at the defence. McKenna produced a good tackle to block Rashford's shot but it rebounded for Martial to tuck his shot into the corner.
70 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Fernandes fires a shot wide from a tight angle but the flag was up for offside in any case. Good tracking from Danilo in the Forest midfield, positioning himself in the box to cut out a United pull back.
67 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
United looking so much more fluent now. Rashford with a backheel around the corner to Martial who found Casemiro with a first-time lay-off but his shot was tame and saved. Fernandes was screaming for him to play the extra pass.
Casemiro then slips and slides into a challenge at the expense of a booking.
65 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Sancho has actually started in a more central, attacking midfield role with Fernandes in a wider position which is interesting. Casemiro then nods wide from a corner.
62 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Garnacho and Williams continue their battle, with the winger taking advantage of a slip in the box to skip beyond him and get a shot off. Went for power but Hennessey saved at the near post.
Ten Hag has seen enough: Rashford, Martial AND Sancho on! Huge cheers for Sancho from the home crowd.
Huge roar for Sancho as he comes on for his first United appearance for over three months #mufc #nffc
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) February 1, 2023
60 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
There was a Var check for a possible red card for Garnacho after an off-the-ball incident with Williams. Did not look an awful lot in it, but we never saw a close up of the incident. The game has more intensity now.
56 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Another penalty appeal from the United crowd, and they may well have a case. McKenna's touch was heavy in the penalty area, and Weghorst got there in front of them before the defender kicked him across the shin. I really think that should be a penalty. It was a poor defensive error.
53 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Nottingham Forest have a corner after a strong forward run from Johnson, pushing the ball beyond Casemiro. Weghorst shows his value as a defender by heading the corner away.
50 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Garnacho tries to force a forward pass after Fred opened up space for him to dribble. Fernandes and Antony then run into each other, and Dennis may have been away on the break but the ball ran out of play.
47 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Martinez always know when to take a touch and stand still. The picture changes and suddenly a pass has opened up for him. Fred and Scarpa involved in another tussle, and the United midfielder goes down after a slight brush in the face from his compatriot's arm.
We're back under way in the second half
Can Forest at least score a goal to make Old Trafford slightly nervy?
HT: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
United are well on their way to Wembley. They have controlled long periods of that half, even if Forest have carved out two good chances. With a little more care and attention from both teams, there should be goals in this.
45 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Another chance, this time for United and Weghorst. Casemiro picked him up with a cute, clipped cross hit first time but the striker's header was glanced on to the post. On the stroke of half time, Surridge catches Varane late and is shown a yellow card.
43 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Forest really should be one up but their own player cleared it off the line!
Johnson's cross was deflected to Dennis on the penalty spot who was in acres of space to volley. He caught it cleanly and the ball was heading for the bottom corner but it smashed into the shins of Surridge.
40 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
That chance for Forest and Johnson has actually spurred United on, with Antony now more involved. Fernandes then gets his body in between the ball and the defender to win a free-kick. A little soft, and the Forest fans do not give him the warmest welcome.
37 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Antony with a clumsy but perhaps effective piece of skill, and the ball looked to have run away from him. The referee gave the corner, and then Antony sent a ambitious shot on the half-volley whistling over the bar.
35 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Chance for Forest! Johnson skipped through a couple of challenges from the right flank, but his side-footed effort was straight at Heaton. The forward had options to slide that left and perhaps set up a team-mate for a more centre shot.
31 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Great composure from Martinez to spin away from Johnson was trying to close him down at pace. Chants of "Argentina, Argentina!" from the Stretford End. Garnacho with another low cross from the left but clean hands from Hennessey.
28 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Another loud handball appeal from United fans, but the ball struck Williams' hand unwittingly on the hand and it was just outside the box.
Garnacho then produces a sharp piece of skill to win a free-kick, and Hennessey did well to save with his feet after the unmarked Casemiro headed back across goal.
25 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
A few groans from the Old Trafford crowd after Fred fails to find Weghorst with a return pass. The Man Utd striker has been pretty quiet so far, although Forest defending narrow and deep is cutting down his space.
22 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Dennis is penalised for handball, after going to ground in search of a free-kick after a shoulder barge from Fernandes. The United man stands over him and gives him a volley. A bit rich of Fernandes to criticise an opponent of amateur dramatics.
20 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
United with a sustained spell of possession. Wan-Bissaka is taking up some quite narrow positions when they attack, dragging Dennis infield and opening up space for Antony.
17 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Appeals for a United penalty with Garnacho up against Williams in the box, but it was a slight from the defender rather than a mis-timed challenge. In the build-up, it was a neat lay-off by Weghorst before Fred fed a ball to the winger.
15 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Scarpa with a wicked cross in from the left flank but Varane did well to head away under pressure.
Fernandes with a lovely outside of the foot scoop to Shaw that was greeted by a gasp for the crowd, but the left-back's first touch left him down.
12 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Forest with their first promising attack of the game, starting with Dennis sweeping up the left wing, and they penned United in. Threatening cross from Williams on the right but Lisandro Martinez was there to clear.
At the other end, Luke Shaw skews a cross behind for a goal kick.
9 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Forest have struggled to get out of their own half so, but Lodi is caught late by Fred which gives them the chance to clear their lines. Hennessey goes long, and Varane heads out for a Forest throw. Surridge is battling up against him.
Nice one-touch play between Fernandes and Shaw down the left but Boly halts Garnacho with a well-timed challenge.
6 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Antony and Bruno Fernandes produce some slick combination play down the right, with Wan-Bissaka involved again. Forest do well to crowd him. The referee has asked to change the match ball, because this one has gone flat.
4 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
Wan-Bissaka has been more involved in possession in recent games, and he showed quick feet to win a free-kick just beyond halfway. Fernandes makes a burst forward from midfield but the ball skips through to Hennessey.
2 minutes: Manchester United 0 Nottingham Forest 0 (3-0, agg)
The Nottingham Forest fans are in good voice. They are expected to go out tonight, but there is a way to lose. Steve Cooper needs his players to produce a performance they can carry forward into their next few league games.
United get us started in front of a packed Old Trafford.
The players are in the tunnel
There is a 'Glazers Out' green and gold banner above the tunnel as the players walk out.
Some late team news...Jesse Lingard is out through injury:
Jesse Lingard is now OUT of the semi final due to injury 🤕 pic.twitter.com/IeJzsBFHuw
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) February 1, 2023
Ten Hag talks about going strong
Still a game to go, it's 0-0 again. Also we have to use the game to get one game further in the process.
I think we have a strong selection, thinking about routines. Bringing some players in but not too much.
It's good to have Sancho and Martial back. It's a first step. There is a long way to go but we need options to rotate and to keep the squad fresh.
Steve Cooper's pre-match thoughts
All we're thinking about is what we're in control of and doing our best to play well in the game.
A lot of the rotation was unavoidable with injuries, a couple of lads with knocks who are only fit enough for the bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson in attendance tonight
We cannot afford any complacency, not only because we are facing Premier League opponents who have a lot of quality in their squad, but also because we must maintain our own standards in order to keep moving in the right direction as a group.
Still a pretty strong United team
Tom Heaton deputises in goal but the back four have been starting Premier League games.
United fans will hope Martial and Rashford will be fresh enough to start at the weekend. Will Jadon Sancho see minutes off the bench?
Nottingham Forest team and subs
Your #NFFC side to take on @ManUtd at Old Trafford. 👊 pic.twitter.com/Msp2yxlCH0
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) February 1, 2023
Manchester United team and subs: Sancho on bench
Heaton; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Fernandes, Garnacho; Weghorst
Subs: De Gea, Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia. Mainoo, Pellistri, Martial, Rashford, Sancho
A return for Jadon Sancho?
Manchester United begin a hectic February that will see them play eight games across three competitions, so Erik ten Hag will welcome the chance to rotate his team against Nottingham Forest tonight.
United have a 3-0 lead from the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Forest, and with a home second leg they are surely assured of playing Newcastle United in the final at Wembley. It will be Newcastle's first major final since 1999, when Paul Scholes and Teddy Sheringham goals won the day for Manchester United in the FA Cup.
Ten Hag is short of midfield options with Christian Eriksen ruled out until at least April with an ankle injury caused by Reading's Andy Carroll. Scott McTominay also has a short-term muscular problem which leaves Fred and Casemiro as United's only fit deep-lying midfielders. The arrival of Marcel Sabitzer on loan from Bayern Munich on transfer deadline day will help, but he is unlikely to be involved this evening. Ten Hag could view this fixture as an opportune moment to involve Jadon Sancho after his extended spell away from the team.
It was also another busy window for Forest, with midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, defender Felipe and PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas announced as deadline day arrivals. Brazilian arrivals Scarpa and Danilo also look promising. Despite their Carabao Cup hopes appearing all but over, Steve Cooper is still demanding a strong showing.
What we haven't done this year is be able to play really well on a stage like Old Trafford, the Etihad or the Emirates," Cooper said. "We've talked about that and the lads have talked about it themselves.
"Can we look like a better team somewhere like Old Trafford at an occasion like this?
"Like I said straight after the (first leg), as disappointing as it was we've got to find some clear objectives to get out of the game. There's always an objective because of who we play for and what it represents but we always add some other stuff in as well.
"It can be important if we can come out of Old Trafford having played well and maybe got a positive result."
Full team news on the way shortly.