Marcus Rashford was the inspiration as Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday in their first Premier League game since the World Cup break.
Rashford played a starring role in the EFL Cup defeat of Burnley last week and was again United’s standout performer as they moved to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham.
The England forward opened the scoring for a dominant United with a goal straight off the training ground before setting up Anthony Martial.
Forest had a goal wiped out just before the break, but it was not a precursor to United coming under greater scrutiny in the second period as they coasted before adding a late third through substitute Fred.
Erik ten Hag was forced to pick a somewhat unfamiliar backline due to illness, with Luke Shaw at centre-back.
But there was no sign of that inhibiting United, and they were deservedly ahead before long, with Rashford providing a wonderfully deft finish from Christian Eriksen’s smart corner delivery.
Rashford was key again as United made it 2-0 three minutes later, latching on to Bruno Fernandes’ clever pass and teeing up Martial to beat the unconvincing Wayne Hennessey at the end of a counter-attack that stemmed from Casemiro’s brilliant recovery.
Willy Boly deflected Ryan Yates’ header in on the stroke of half-time, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.
United should have taken advantage of that let-off early in the second half when Antony spurned a glorious opportunity with only Hennessey to beat.
Rashford also wasted a good chance when scuffing substitute Donny van de Beek’s cut-back, but United put the game beyond Forest late on as Casemiro won the ball back, surged into the final third and found Fred for an easy finish.
1 – Casemiro’s assist for Fred’s goal was the first time that two Brazilian players have combined for a Manchester United goal in the Premier League. Compatriot.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe)
What does it mean? Red Devils looking free without Cristiano Ronaldo
The mid-World Cup announcement of Ronaldo’s exit was generally greeted favourably by United fans, with the Portugal striker resembling a square peg in a round hole in the first part of the season.
While Burnley and Forest may not be the greatest of opponents, United have looked fluid and unshackled going forward with Ronaldo not there to hold them back.
They should have scored more than they did on Tuesday, but there was always a sense they could have cranked things up a notch if needed – that ultimately was not a necessity as they comfortably saw off a mediocre Forest side.
Casemiro shows his class
Rashford will dominate the headlines, but this was a masterclass from Casemiro. He played a crucial role in United’s second when winning the ball back near his own corner flag; then he did similar and provided the assist for their third. He was imperious.
Antony a source of frustration
Although he has chipped in with a few goals, United fans are still waiting for Antony to really explode. That certainly did not occur here.
His decision-making was largely poor. He failed to tally a single key pass and wasted a tremendous chance in the second half before being withdrawn.
Key Opta Facts
– United have kept four consecutive clean sheets at Old Trafford in the Premier League for first time since February to June 2020.
– Forest have failed to score in each of their last six away league games, their longest run without a league goal on the road since November 1970 (seven games).
– Forest have lost each of their last six Premier League meetings with United by an aggregate score of 27-2; only against Blackburn Rovers (six between 1992 and 1996) have they endured such a long losing streak against a single side in the competition.
– Rashford has scored 10 goals in all competitions this season for Manchester United (21 games), double his tally from the whole of last season for the Red Devils (five in 32 games).
United go to Wolves on Saturday, while Forest are home to Chelsea the following day.