Manchester United’s Premier League title hopes may be fading, but a first final under Erik ten Hag is now in sight.
A 3-0 away win in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday put United in control ahead of the return fixture at Old Trafford next week.
Goals from Marcus Rashford, Wout Weghorst and Bruno Fernandes at the City Ground went some way toward easing the disappointment of the late 3-2 loss to Arsenal on Sunday, which dented United’s challenge at the top of the league.
Ten Hag, however, has moved a step closer to the club’s first silverware for six years.
A Wembley final against Newcastle or Southampton awaits United unless Forest can mount an unlikely fightback.
Newcastle leads Southampton 1-0 after the first leg.
“We have to play one game, we have to do the same,” Ten Hag said. “We have to prepare, make good game plan and the players have to be focused.”
Rashford opened the scoring for United after six minutes with a run from the halfway line before bursting past Joe Worrall and Remo Freuler in the box and finishing clinically.
It was the in-form England forward’s 10th goal in as many games since returning from the World Cup and his fifth in the League Cup this season. No player from Europe's big five leagues has scored as many over that period.
Sam Surridge had a goal ruled out by VAR for offside before Weghorst, who signed on loan from Burnley this month, scored his first for his new club in the 45th.
Antony’s shot from the edge of the box was only parried by Forest goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and Weghorst reacted sharply to convert the rebound.
Fernandes rounded off the scoring in the 89th and likely ended Forest's slim hopes of a comeback.
“We’ve put ourselves in this situation and we have to deal with it next week,” Forest manager Steve Cooper said.
United hasn’t won a trophy since 2017 when Jose Mourinho’s team lifted the League Cup and Europa League in his first season in charge.
Ten Hag is aiming to replicate that feat by delivering a trophy in his debut campaign after being appointed at the end of last season.
The former Ajax coach spoke this week of the importance of picking up silverware in his bid to return United to its former glories.
He questioned his players' winning mentality after the defeat to Arsenal left his team 11 points off the league leader, but got the desired response against Forest.
“We lost the last game so we had to produce now and as a team we did,” United defender Lisandro Martinez said. “You can see when we do the right things we don’t concede goals. We controlled the game, but we still have many things to improve on and we have to keep going."
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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This story was originally published January 25, 2023, 2:02 PM.