Injury-stricken United romp to important Forest victory

Manchester United overcame a growing list of injuries to secure a valuable three points at The City Ground which cemented their top four hopes. The Red Devils now sit in 3rd, six points clear with a game in hand on 5th-place Tottenham Hotspur. 

Antony and Dalot linked up for United’s second of the game. (Photo by TheNational)

An injury list totalling 9 first team players, including first choice centre-back parking Rafael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, limited United boss Erik Ten Hag’s options ahead of the game.

Before a ball was kicked, the Dutchman’s injury worries worsened. Marcel Sabitzer tweaked his groin muscle in the warm-up. Eriksen stepped into Sabitzer’s boots and started alongside Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes in midfield – the exact midfield three United built their impressive post-World Cup form around before Eriksen’s injury at the end of January.

The extent of United’s injury list was highlighted by Samuel Luckhurst.

De Get started behind an unfamiliar backline of Aaron Wan Bissaka, Harry Maguire (operating as a right sided centre-half), Victor Lindelof and Diogo Dalot who deputised at left-back. The aforementioned midfield three provided plentiful support for the electric front three of Antony, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho.

First Half

Forest and United had squared off three times already this season, United won all three.

The first moment of incident came inside the third minute. A quick turnover that started in Forest’s half meant Maguire was forced into a rash challenge on Taiwo Awoniyi in his own half. It was poor positioning from the club captain, who was caught out and received a very early booking. 

Maguire has picked up nine yellow cards in 27 appearances this season. (Photo by MirrorSport)

Maguire’s afternoon could have gone two distinct ways from here. Thankfully for Erik Ten Hag and his team, this was Maguire’s only blotch.

United were keen to assert heir dominance early. Bruno Fernandes and Eriksen both created early chances for teammates, but Forest’s low block meant that space was at a premium. 

United’s playing out from the back has been a subject of contention this season. In the infamously calamitous display vs. Brentford in August, De Gea made a number of critical errors from playing it from the back. This afternoon however, doing so left Fernandes lots of space once he received the ball in the midfield. 

Several chances arose from this avenue. 

United’s breakthrough came in the 31st minute. Forest had been weathering a storm up until then. Fernandes and Martial linked up well, allowing the Frenchman to put in a wicked shot which was parried by the excellent Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican goalkeeper’s stop landed at the feet of an onrushing Antony. He slotted home for his first Premier League goal since September. 1-0 United.

Second half 

With United in full control of the tie, the threat of Forest scoring loomed large. The Red Devils knew they had to win all three points. Games are running out and a place in next years Champions League was in the balance.

Fortunately for Ten Hag, his team took full control of the tie from this point on.

A decent set-piece routine shone, and almost resulted in United’s second. Bruno Fernandes’s short corner was fed back to him by Eriksen. Fernandes, who pulled the strings all afternoon, hit a wild strike that rattled the crossbar thanks again to the on-loan Navas. Despite his impressive form in the tie, Forest fans seem keen to welcome back Dean Henderson – six of their seven clean sheets this season have come from the on-loan United stopper and he has been directly responsible for half of those!

Navas picks the ball out of his net for after Antony prodded home United’s opener. (Photo by TicoTimes)

United’s crucial second goal came from an unlikely source, but was easily one of United’s best from this campaign. Antony, having one of his best games in a United shirt, cut inside and found space – enough to slot in Diogo Dalot. The full-back spent most of the afternoon underlapping, this time he was found and slotted past a helpless Navas. United had daylight and never once looked like surrendering it.

Next steps

Erik Ten Hag heaped praise onto his entire team, singling out the far-from-first-choice defence in particular:

“(It was) a very good performance in defence. They dominated the opponents, the cooperation was very good. I can’t remember a transition moment, so their positioning was really good, solid and concentrated.”

Erik Ten Hag issues touchline instructions to his team. (Photo by MirrorSport)

United have already beaten their points total from last season – 58. With eight league games to go, an FA Cup semi-final next weekend and an intriguing Europa League quarter-final second leg in Sevilla on Thursday, Erik Ten Hag is still fighting on three fronts.

Ten Hag will be delighted with his whole team’s performance. It was as dominant a display as United have played this season – an xG of 3.49  signals United should and could have had more. As the injured parties, including Rashford, Shaw and Garnacho, return in the next few weeks, they’ll all do well to find a place in this very impressive side.

Author: Sam Talbot

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