Manchester United travel to the City Ground in Nottingham where they will face Nottingham Forest in the semi final first leg of the Carabao Cup. United could be 180 minutes away from their first Cup Final of the Erik ten Hag era. It has been almost 24 years since United last faced Forest at the City Ground – winning that match 8-1 on the 6 February 1999 with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole both scoring braces and Ole Gunnar Solskjær scoring four goals.
Forest’s form has risen since United beat them 3-0 on the 27 December 2022. They have won three, drawn two and lost one of their last six matches and have risen from the relegation places in the Premier League to 13th but only have 21 points from the 20 matches they have played so far this season. Dean Henderson is ineligible to face United but he is also injured and will miss the two matches anyway. Jesse Lingard has recovered from injury but did not feature on Saturday.
United made the semi finals of the Carabao Cup by beating Aston Villa 4-2, Burnley 2-0 and Charlton Athletic 3-0 and will now be tasked with beating Forest over two legs to reach the final of the Carabao Cup on Sunday 26 February 2023. Forest reached the semi final by beating Grimsby Town 3-0, Tottenham Hotspur 2-0, Blackburn Rovers 4-1 and Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Both teams will be up for the challenge but United should prevail.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Malacia;
Pellistri, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has largely been a positive this season but against Arsenal some individual errors and luck seemed to go against him. He made some good saves but was beaten three times which saw Arsenal victorious. However, Rome was not built in a day and this United team will get so much better. Ten Hag is building something as this team are miles better than the team United put out last season and many of the players are the same.
It could well be that Jack Butland starts in goal in this match but with him not being involved yet, but training, it may be too soon for him to start. He could come off the bench if United get a good result early enough, but I would save him for Reading on Saturday with it being at Old Trafford. However, it could still be a big gamble but United will need to utilise him at some point. I still think that De Gea will start this match as United winning the first leg is important.
With Butland in the squad this season, not to mention Tom Heaton, De Gea could be challenged for the starting position in the team. It’s would be unlikely that either of them would dislodge him but they could help him reach his best with the competition for places. De Gea still has something to give United but Ten Hag will be seeking a replacement for the Spanish goalkeeper as United will need to move on. Next season and beyond, De Gea could be the support in his position.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Malacia
United’s defence has done well this season. United have six defeats in all competitions this season, more victories and fewer draws which is a positive sign. Of course, there is still a lot of improvement for this team and Ten Hag will be working on that. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has improved but he is still not the player that United need at right-back against the better teams. But for now, United can utilise him whilst he is in good form as it has worked well for him and United.
Tyrell Malacia should play at left-back in this match, giving Luke Shaw a break until Saturday evening when United face Reading at Old Trafford in the Emirates FA Cup. Giving hims a rest will be good for him as he has played a lot in the last few weeks and will be playing bigger matches in the next month. Malacia has some good things about him but he is not as experienced as Shaw so he will need to gain minutes to get up to speed. He should do well against Forest.
In the centre of defence, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez could well start again as United need a good result here. It is possible that either Victor Lindelof or Harry Maguire could come on in the second half to give one of them a rest ahead of the Reading match, which would be good, then one could get some rest against Reading so they are fresh for the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final against Forest at Old Trafford in a week’s time.
Midfield: Casemiro, Fred
United’s midfield has two great players in it this season and one of them was missing in the 3-2 defeat to Arsenal. Casemiro has become one of the most important players in this squad this season as he has done things that have been the difference in United winning and losing. Forest may not be the strongest side in the Premier League but they will be up for this challenge outside of normal league matches, giving them a chance of challenging for a trophy.
Christian Eriksen seemed a bit tired against Arsenal and it would be good to see him rested for this match, at least on the bench should United need him and if need be, he could come in in the second half to do what he does best. It might be better for him to be fit for Reading, who will still be a threat to United, especially as Paul Ince will want to get one over the team he used to play for, even more as he is not considered a legend of the club.
Fred could start alongside his compatriot. He is a talented player and has done some good things for United this season. He is not a goal scorer but he is a work horse and United need players like him. Since Erik ten Hag became the United manager, Fred has improved. He’s not a regular starter but in a match such as this one, he could be worth his weight in gold as Casemiro will make him look the part in this team – which will be good for both of them.
Attacking Midfield: Pellistri, Fernandes, Rashford
Facundo Pellistri made his Manchester United debut against Charlton Athletic, coming on late in the match and assisting his first competitive goal for the club. Since then, he has not been used but was an unused substitute against Arsenal on Sunday. I would like to see him start in the right-wing role against Forest as I believe the lad has something to give United. There is a reason that Uruguay use him internationally and United should hopefully see that soon.
Bruno Fernandes is the United captain with Harry Maguire off the pitch. It should be a permanent thing for the future of the club. He is in good form at this stage of the season and has scored (twice) or assisted (once) in the last three matches. He is an important player for United and in the three years he has been at the club has already passed 100 goal contributions which shows how much of a bargain he was. United are so much better when he is in form.
Marcus Rashford is the man of the moment. He has 17 goals so far this season with a further five assists. He has nine goals in the last nine matches for United so based on that, should at least start this match. Once United are in a position whereby it will not be a gamble to take him off, he could be replaced by Alejandro Garnacho, who is raising his game to start more often.When Jadon Sancho is fit, he could be a direct rival for Rashford’s position, unless he fits on the right?
The Dutchman has started both matches he has been eligible to play in following his loan signing for the remainder of the season from Burnley. With Anthony Martial on the sidelines once again, having become out of form, again, Wout Weghorst looks set to keep his place as the striker in this team against Forest. The Netherlands international will be seeking to bag his first goal for the club but will also continue to do all the good things that he can do.
He may not be a target man in this team bagging goals left, right and centre but he has many uses. People like Piers Morgan have criticised United’s signing of Weghorst because he effectively replaced Cristiano Ronaldo and is never going to be as prolific as he was in his younger days. Morgan does not understand that different approaches mean different things because he is the type of person to look at a negative and keep pushing it because he is desperate for attention.
Weghorst will prove his worth at United. For years we have been hearing that players who United have signed would not be good enough. Look at all the criticism United got for signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Zlatan got 29 goals and 10 assist in 53 appearances and Cavani got 19 goals and seven assist in 59 appearances for United. If Weghorst can get ten goal contributions this season, it will be considered a successful loan spell for him.
Substitutes: Butland; Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Eriksen, McTominay; Antony, Elanga, Garnacho
United have strength in depth in the squad this season but it could be so much better for them in the future and that is something that Ten Hag will be looking to bring to the club in the next few seasons. For now, United will need to rotate what they have in the current squad to get the best they can from the season. Against Forest, although Butland will be waiting to make his debut, I think he will be on the bench with him possibly making his debut against Reading in the FA Cup.
In defence, I would expect to see Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire but would also expect to see them given some time on the pitch in this match. United need to overcome their recent form with a draw against Palace and a defeat to Arsenal by winning this match. Luke Shaw could also be on the bench here to be given a break with a tough run of matches coming. Brandon Williams is also a shout for this match but I don’t think it will happen for him.
In the midfield, Christian Eriksen should be on the bench as he clearly needs a rest with bigger matches coming in the not too distant future. Scott McTominay did not cover himself in glory against Arsenal so should remain on the bench here. Both players could offer something from the bench. In attack, Antony, Anthony Elanga and Alejandro Garnacho could all be available. United need to get a good result against Forest ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford next week.
Written by John Walker