Preview: Manchester United vs. Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest will endeavour to pull off an improbable comeback when they travel to meet Manchester United in the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Wednesday night.
The Red Devils have one foot in the final courtesy of a dominant 3-0 success at the City Ground last week, and either Southampton or Newcastle United will await Erik ten Hag’s men at Wembley, assuming they can avoid a calamitous collapse here.
Failing to win either of their two most recent Premier League matches with Crystal Palace and Arsenal was far from ideal preparation for a cup semi-final, but Man United nonetheless notched up three goals – all of which came at ideal points in the match – to post a healthy first-leg advantage at Forest’s home ground.
Marcus Rashford took all of six minutes to break the deadlock before Wout Weghorst came up with his first goal for the Red Devils just before the break, and Bruno Fernandes put the cherry on the icing on the cake with 89 minutes played.
No stranger to winning trophies during his time in charge of Ajax – who have just sacked his successor Alfred Schreuder – Ten Hag is now potentially only 180 minutes away from clinching Man United’s first piece of silverware since 2017, and the prospect of a domestic cup double is still alive too.
Indeed, a strong Red Devils XI cruised past Reading 3-1 in the FA Cup fourth round at the weekend, with Casemiro bagging a brace alongside an effort for Fred, which extended Man United’s scoring streak to a whopping 19 games across all competitions.
No team to hold a three-goal lead from the first leg of an EFL Cup semi-final has ever been eliminated, but the more superstitious Man United fans may not be cheering for a victory here, as the Red Devils have lost all three of their EFL Cup finals when winning both legs of the semis.
Steve Cooper’s Tricky Trees will take any glimmer of hope that comes their way this week, as Forest aim to do what no team has ever done before in the EFL Cup by overturning a three-goal deficit in the semi-finals.
The visitors to the Theatre of Dreams have enjoyed a full weekend’s worth of rest and preparation after their humiliating FA Cup third-round exit to Blackpool, but few members of the Forest faithful will be dreaming of a remarkable fightback on Wednesday night.
A semi-final exit would still mark Nottingham Forest’s best run in the EFL Cup for 31 years, having reached the final of the 1991-92 edition before coincidentally losing to Manchester United, but the steadily-improving visitors can still capitalise on any shreds of complacency from their more esteemed hosts.
Only two of the Tricky Trees’ last five away matches in all competitions have ended in defeat, although one of those was a 3-0 loss to Man United in the Premier League, and they have netted once in each of their last three fixtures on the road.
However, that three-goal loss in the first leg of their semi-final marked Forest’s eighth defeat in a row against Man United across all tournaments, and not since the 1994-95 Premier League season have the Tricky Trees travelled home from Old Trafford with a victory to their name.
Manchester United EFL Cup form:
Manchester United form (all competitions):
Nottingham Forest EFL Cup form:
Nottingham Forest form (all competitions):
We say: Manchester United 2-0 Nottingham Forest
Any Man United player taking their foot off the gas can expect a piece of Ten Hag’s mind, but the Dutchman should not have any concerns on that front as Man United stroll to Wembley.
A couple of changes in the final third may mean that the margin of victory is not as emphatic as the first leg was, but even a refreshed Forest side should not threaten a spectacular comeback at the Old Trafford fortress.