Man Utd beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at the City Ground to take total control of their Carabao Cup semi-final tie.
Weghorst’s link-up play
It’s starting to sound like a broken record but Wout Weghorst’s link-up play really is exceptional. When he adds a goal to that play as he did at the City Ground on Wednesday then he looks like a player capable of having an influence on this team.
Opta are yet to create a stat for one-twos, but it’s surely something Weghorst would be near the top of. His xGG (expectet
Time and again at the City Ground he would pin a defender and basically turn into a wall. A teammate would fire a pass into him, move five yards and get it back again. It might not immediately lead to anything but what it does do is move the opposition’s defence around, creating space and angles that can eventually lead to an opening.
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One smart passing move did almost led to a goal in the first half. Antony’s pass was fired into Weghorst, but he immediately laid it off to Bruno Fernandes, who played the advancing Antony in. The Brazilian should have scored, but Wayne Hennessey denied him.
He’s clearly not the world-class striker they need, but he is proving a valuable asset to the attack at the moment and the beaming smile Ten Hag wore when his countryman came off five minutes from time said it all. There was a clasp of the hand and a fierce pat on the head from his manager to the striker.
Antony and Rashford difference
An unwanted feature of Antony’s game recently has been his running style when he gets in possession in deep areas. His desire to use his left foot and the angle of his body forces him towards the touchline and eventually means he just runs out of room and has to come back out.
When Marcus Rashford got on the ball 10 yards inside his own and tight to the touchline early in this game, his every touch took him nearer to the goal. The shape of his body and the angle of his touches, made with the outside of his right foot, moved him from near the edge of the field of play to the width of the penalty area when it came to edging between Joe Worrall and Remo Freuler.
It was another wonderful individual goal, but it also highlighted a wide forward at the peak of his powers, determined to influence games and be a goal threat. It’s something Antony still needs to perfect.
This was, on the whole, a much better performance from the Brazilian winger. It was his shot that led to the second goal and he had a brilliant chance just before that as well.
But he just cannot match Rashford for impact at the moment. The England international has scored sublime individual goals in back-to-back away games and now has 10 in as many games. He is at the very top of his game.
The last time United contested a two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final they were 3-0 down at half-time in the first leg, at Old Trafford, and any dreams of Wembley had already evaporated. What a difference this was.
If they were the nearly men under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, then it looks like that is a tag that Erik ten Hag will see the back of. His body language suggested he wasn’t always happy with this performance, especially in the first half, but United returned to the dressing rooms 2-0 up after a quarter of the tie and the general consensus was that it was already over.
With Forest failing to mount any kind of second-half comeback that feels even truer ahead of next weekend’s return leg at Old Trafford. United are surely heading to Wembley.
They’ve taken control of this semi-final tie with the minimum of fuss. It was a professional performance and there should be few dramas back in Manchester.
Ten Hag’s body language
Anybody who had spent the last 20 minutes or so of the first half watching Ten Hag would have found it hard to believe that his side were in the lead at half-time, such was his disappointment as aspects of his team’s play.
From the moment United escaped conceding an equaliser thanks to the most marginal of offside calls against Sam Surridge, the visitors lost control of the game and Ten Hag was clearly furious about it.
The disallowed goal was a case in point. When an attack broke down on the edge of the Forest area it look just one straight, 30-yard pass to find Morgan Gibbs-White leading a three-on-two charge. The rest of the half was a scene of similar sloppiness.
Ten Hag has made it perfectly clear this season, and even this week, that he will not tolerate any drop in standards. He clearly felt that was the case in the first half, despite United ending it in a comfortable position.
Return to the City Ground
United had been in this neck of the woods in a couple of weeks short of 24 years, an iconic Premier League game that ended 8-1 to the visitors, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming off the bench with 19 minutes to go and scoring four times. They hadn’t lost here since May 1990.