Manchester United welcome Nottingham Forest to Old Trafford for the second time this season, this time in the Carabao Cup semi final second leg. United lead 3-0 on aggregate after goals from Marcus Rashford, Wout Weghorst and Bruno Fernandes in the first leg which puts United in a great position to earn their first Cup Final of the Erik ten Hag era of the club. United have found massive improvement under the Dutchman this season, which is clear to see.
United also earned a place in the Emirates FA Cup fifth round after beating Reading 3-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday evening. A brace from Casemiro and a goal from Fred saw United through although after Andy Carroll was sent off for Reading, which in turn seemed to injure Christian Eriksen, Reading got a consolation goal. It means that United still fight in all four competitions they started the season in; the Premier League, UEFA Europa League, Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
Bruno Fernandes has been involved in five goal contributions in his last five matches, scoring three (Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Forest) and assisting twice (Arsenal and Reading). Today marks three years since he signed for United and in 156 appearances to date has 56 goals and 46 assists in all competitions – 102 goal contributions. His form may not be the same as it was when he arrived in January 2020, but he’s inspired right now to achieve.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Malacia;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea is seeking to eclipse Peter Schmeichel’s clean sheet record at United, which stands at 180. De Gea currently have 178 and was close to keeping his 179th clean sheet against Reading in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday evening. The Spanish goalkeeper will be looking to achieve that as soon as he can to set a new record at the Old Trafford club. It is quite possible, with Jack Butland not yet involved for United, that he starts again.
The 32-year-old is heading into the twilight years of his career and is subject to speculation of a new contract at United, on lesser terms which could keep him at the club for the remainder of his career. De Gea is not really challenged by Tom Heaton and is yet to face a challenge from Butland, who came on loan from Crystal Palace. Butland will not be eligible to face his parent club, which is who United face after this Carabao Cup semi final second leg match.
It could well be Butland or Heaton that starts for United in this match, giving De Gea a rest, but I expected that to happen against Reading in the FA Cup, but he started. Granted, De Gea would get something from being rested this week with the UEFA Europa League play off round coming up against Barcelona and United already adding one more match this season with the prospect of the Carabao Cup final being confirmed on Wednesday evening. He might need resting.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Malacia
Defensively, United have improved this season but there is still work to prefect this team. Ten Hag has worked wonders so far but the ground to be covered in the years to come will be tough. With the injury to Diogo Dalot and the illness of Luke Shaw, it seems likely that Aaron Wan-Bissaka will once again start in the right-back position. He has done well this season but against better opposition, he may not be the player to build the defence on – but good for now.
In the left-back position, if Shaw is not fully recovered after his illness, Tyrell Malacia could once again start in the left-back role. Shaw is obviously the first-choice in the position at this time but Malacia is learning something good with the minutes he is getting in the team right now. In the years to come, Malacia should have acquired the knowledge and ability to take the reins in the position and help drive United into the right direction. There is a lot of hard work though.
In the centre of the defence, Raphael Varane could be back in the picture for this match having been rested in the last two matches in a row. After the matches he has played since the season resuming after the FIFA World Cup, that break will have been much-needed. Lisandro Martinez was rested for the last match and having both of them on the pitch in this match will be wise for United as Forest will need to be stopped from getting anything from this match.
Midfield: Casemiro, Fred
The midfield has been hit with a blow this season. Donny van de Beek’s knee injury was the first devastating blow and now it has to be the fact that Christian Eriksen could be out for the foreseeable future if the injury to his ankle is a bad one – he left Old Trafford on Saturday on crutches and in a protective boot. Eriksen and Casemiro have partnered in the centre of the midfield this season and the improvement has been visible for all to see – well, those who want to.
Eriksen is definitely out of the Forest match, which was something that could have been expected with the number of appearances he has made this season. Fred is the most likely to partner Casemiro in the midfield and their understanding having played together for Brazil could be good for the remainder of the season should Eriksen be out for a prolonged amount of time, which will hopefully not be the case. Ten Hag has other options though, should he need them.
Scott McTominay has been kept at the club despite some attention for him this month but it could well be that he’s gone in the summer – unless something spectacular happens, which seems unlikely. Other than McTominay, Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo have had chances this season with both players doing well with the cameos they had been given. Ten Hag’s look to the future could be good for United but the duo are inexperienced, which will change this season and beyond.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
The attacking midfield positions are perhaps the most important for United. This is where the majority of the goals scored this season are and it is the bridge between the midfield and the attack. Antony played his best game for United this season against Reading and it could well be similar to Casemiro’s match against Everton earlier in the season which is where he started to adapt and show himself in the position that he plays in. Antony can be great for United.
The Brazilian winger has five goals and one assist to his name this season, which added to Bruno Fernandes’ figures – six goals and six assists, starts to show that these players in these positions are perhaps, at this time, the most important on the pitch as scoring goals is the difference to winning matches. Fernandes is not in his best form but he is well on the way to getting there and long may it continue. He has been involved in five goal contributions in the last five matches too.
Marcus Rashford is the player to beat this season with 18 goals scored and a further five assists. Just these three players alone have been responsible for 29 goals and 12 assists – 41 goal contributions. Rashford will be on the prowl for more goals this season as he looks to beat his best season which resulted in 22 goals scored in all competitions in the 2019/20 season, getting 12 assists. But the following season saw him get 21 goals and 15 assists – 36 goal contributions.
Wout Weghorst has 172 goals in 420 appearances in club football, adding 50 assists to his tally – 222 goal contributions in his career. During the 2020/21 season, whilst playing for Wolfsburg in Germany, he achieved 25 goals and nine assists in all competitions – 34 goal contributions which was his second best in 11 seasons. He has one goal for United so far and in just four appearances, playing 317 minutes of football, he will strive for more.
The Dutch striker may not be the most prolific goal scorer in the history of football but this season he could help United deliver something. His height and his hold up play is something that United have lacked and his sheer determination to get results is clear to see. It is early days for him but he seems to want to achieve a permanent place at United, which would be good. United have many players in other positions that are not needed, so why not?
If he finds his feet in the Premier League, Carabao Cup, Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League, it could all work out for him as United still fight in all four competitions they started out in. United have never been in the position, post-Sir Alex Ferguson that has seen them with so many quality attacking players. Granted, a new striker is needed – a younger player with the ability to score many goals but after this season, Weghorst could have also made the grade.
Substitutes: Heaton; Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Pellistri, McTominay, Mainoo; Elanga, Garnacho
Nine players will be named on the bench against Forest with five of them able to be used throughout the match. Should the aggregate scores be level after 90 minutes of the second leg, extra time will be played. A further substitution can be made for either team. There are two concussion substitutions in case of a head injury too – so there are options for everything. I think Tom Heaton could be on the bench for this match, but Jack Butland is also an option.
In the defence, United are stocked with Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, should he overcome illness ahead of this match. Maguire is also eligible after sitting out the first leg through suspension. This will give United some fresh legs to bring on should defensive reinforcement be required. It is the midfield where there are problems for United right now. Facundo Pellistri, Scott McTominay and Kobbie Mainoo could all be available.
Zidane Iqbal could also be an option, which could happen is Anthony Elanga is allowed to leave the club on loan, which would happen before United face Forest at the Theatre of Dreams. That would leave United low on attacking players, but if Jadon Sancho returns soon, it won’t be a massive problem. Elanga and Alejandro Garnacho could be the only attacking players on the bench for this match, unless Sancho is ready to return, which is due to happen at some point.
Written by John Walker