Marcus Rashford scored one goal and set up another as Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 to move a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the Premier League.
United’s preparations were disrupted by a virus which left Raphael Varane, who had only just returned from World Cup duty with France, as their only fit centre-back, with Erik ten Hag having to use left-back Luke Shaw alongside him.
But Forest rarely tested their makeshift backline, and, in United’s first Premier League game since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, Rashford took centre stage, dispatching the opener from Christian Eriksen’s clever corner in the 19th minute, then teeing up Anthony Martial for the second goal shortly afterwards.
Forest’s Ryan Yates saw a goal ruled out for offside by VAR shortly before half-time, but United were otherwise dominant and wrapped up the win when the excellent Casemiro stole possession high up the pitch and fed substitute Fred, who lashed home a powerful finish three minutes from time.
The victory ensures United resume their Premier League campaign in the best way possible, closing the gap to Spurs as they chase a top-four finish, while Forest remain 19th, a point from safety.
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan-Bissaka (7), Varane (7), Shaw (7), Malacia (7), Casemiro (9), Eriksen (7), Fernandes (7), Antony (6), Martial (7), Rashford (8).
Subs: Van de Beek (6), Garnacho (6), Maguire (6), Elanga (n/a).
Nottingham Forest: Hennessey (7), Aurier (6), Worrall (5), Boly (6), Freuler (6), Lodi (6), Mangala (6), Yates (6), Lingard (6), Johnson (5), Awoniyi (5).
Subs: O’Brien (6), Surridge (6), Toffolo (6), Dennis (6), Williams (n/a).
Man of the match: Casemiro
How United cruised to victory
The warning signs were there for Nottingham Forest from the first few minutes of the game, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrell Malacia finding space on the flanks and the latter seeing a powerful effort turned onto the post by Wayne Hennessey.
The goalkeeper, standing in for the on-loan Dean Henderson against his parent club, was fortunate that shot didn’t squirm into the net rather than onto the upright, but United didn’t have to wait long to make the breakthrough.
Team news – Man Utd hit by virus
- Man Utd were without Victor Lindelof and Scott McTominay due to a virus, with Harry Maguire only fit enough for the bench as Raphael Varane was rushed back in defence.
- Jesse Lingard started against his former club for Nottingham Forest while Wayne Hennessey was named in goal, with Dean Henderson unable to face his parent club.
Rashford’s goal, dispatched first-time following a pre-rehearsed corner routine, made it five in his last eight games for United either side of the World Cup – where he also netted three times for England – and he then turned provider for Martial.
Hennessey should have done better with Martial’s low effort, the Welsh international beaten despite getting a hand to the shot, but the goal capped a slick counter from the hosts which started with Casemiro winning a tackle near his own byline.
United looked in complete control as half-time approached but they had a let-off when the unmarked Yates had a goal ruled out by VAR following a free kick, his header found to have hit Wily Boly in an offside position before beating David de Gea.
Forest started the second half a little more brightly, but the best chances continued to fall to United, with Antony, Martial, Rashford and Casemiro all denied by Hennessey.
Forest’s best opportunity to pull a goal back came when Brennan Johnson’s backheeled flick drew a parried save from De Gea at his near post, but United sealed the win in style.
Casemiro, excellent at both ends of the pitch over the course of the game, showed impressive alertness to intercept a Forest pass as they attempted to launch a counter-attack, then played in Fred, whose fine finish found the far corner, capping a satisfying night’s work for the hosts.
Ten Hag happy but targeting signings
Erik ten Hag told the BBC: “We conceded no goals, kept a clean sheet. Happy with that because it is always the base to compete. We could have scored more goals definitely.
“We had some great attacks, lots of movement. When you have one on ones with the keeper, you have to score more goals.”
On Marcus Rashford’s performance, he added: “It was not only Rashford but I’m really happy with his performance once again. He is in a really good pattern and if he keeps with this pattern and spirit, it is good for us and good for him.”
Regarding United’s plans for the January transfer window, he added to Amazon Prime: “We are looking for offensive players. We are looking for a striker.
“We are always in the market, but it has to match the sporting criteria but also the financial criteria. We do what we can to bring in the players we need.”
Resurgent Rashford eyeing silverware
Marcus Rashford told the BBC: “I think the main thing is that I’m enjoying myself and I’m focused and happy. I’m hoping that can carry on. I want to have a really good season this year and hopefully win a trophy with the club.
“That’s the main aim. It’s an ambition that we’ve had for a while. When I first came into the team we had a good start, we won three or four trophies in the first couple of years.
“Since then we were in a difficult patch but the only way to come out of it is to keep working hard and we have to keep listening to the manager and the staff, play the football he wants to play and win games. If we keep improving we’ll be in and around those opportunities
“I think everyone enjoys playing here [at Old Trafford], it’s probably one of the best stadiums in the world. It’s got brilliant fans and when we’re playing well it’s a great feeling, great atmosphere. There’s not much you can compare to it.”
Analysis: Casemiro transforming Man Utd
If Manchester United are to go on and secure a top-four finish, it will owe a lot to Casemiro. The Brazilian was eased into the side gradually following his arrival from Real Madrid in the summer, but there is no doubting his importance now.
Starting for the 13th time in 14 United games either side of the World Cup, he produced arguably his best performance yet in a win which puts Erik ten Hag’s side only a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
United certainly needed him given a virus had forced the manager to field a makeshift centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane, who had only just returned from holiday following his World Cup exploits with France, and left-back Luke Shaw.
But the 30-year-old protected that duo superbly, dominating the midfield right from the start of the game and helping to ensure Forest rarely got near the United goal.
He excelled in a defensive sense, snapping into tackles – one of which started the move for United’s second goal – and anticipating danger, but he was similarly influential at the other end of the pitch, his all-round display a reminder of his completeness.
He almost scored with a deft chip which forced a scrambling save from Forest goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey in the second half, and the pass to set up Fred’s late goal, following a typically smart interception, was one of three chances he created.
This kind of performance should come as no surprise, of course. Casemiro is a five-time Champions League winner for a reason. But what’s key for United is that he has adapted to the Premier League so quickly. They have lost only one of those last 13 games he has started. His role in their recent improvement is a significant one.
Cooper bemoans Forest defending
Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper said: “It was always going to be really tough here tonight and we knew the game was going to look as it did in terms of them having territory and possession.
“The goals are a killer in terms of a set piece where some players have clearly not stuck to their responsibilities.
“And then we’re in a half-decent position in United’s box, but then to give up the space and the territory we did. I wouldn’t say we gifted the goal because they have to work for it, but it’s frustrating with the goals.
“I just felt we could’ve backed ourselves a bit more in the game. We got in between the lines two or three times in the first half but didn’t make the most of it. In the end you do have to make the most of those situations at this level.
“I’m a big believer in looking at the process of the performance. I was more frustrated at times with a lack of quality at times at the top end of the pitch, a lack of belief in decision making and taking risks and backing ourselves.”
Rashford’s fine form – Opta stats
- Marcus Rashford has scored 10 goals in all competitions this season for Manchester United (21 games), double his tally from the whole of the last campaign (five in 32 games).
- Anthony Martial has been directly involved in five goals in his last six Premier League appearances for Manchester United (three goals, two assists all under Erik ten Hag) – one more than he managed in his previous 21 (under Ralf Rangnick, Michael Carrick and Ole Gunnar Solskjær).
- Fred’s goal, assisted by Casemiro, was the first time two Brazilians combined for a Manchester United goal in the Premier League.
- Manchester United have kept four consecutive clean sheets at Old Trafford in the Premier League for first time since February-June 2020.
Manchester United are away to Wolves in their next Premier League game on Saturday, with kick-off at 12.30pm.
Nottingham Forest host Chelsea live on Sky Sports on Sunday, with kick-off at 4.30pm.