Manchester United hosted Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford for the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final.
Erik ten Hag’s men headed into the game with a comfortable three-goal cushion accrued in the first leg at the City Ground. However, this did not stop the United boss from naming a strong starting XI.
Tom Heaton came in place of David de Gea. Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane formed the centre-back partnership as Luke Shaw replaced Tyrell Malacia.
After Christian Eriksen’s injury, Fred was tasked with forming the midfield pivot alongside his Brazilian compatriot Casemiro.
The only change in attack was Alejandro Garnacho on the left ahead of Marcus Rashford, with the Englishman given a well-deserved rest.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 2-0 victory against Nottingham Forest.
Garnacho was United’s most threatening player in the first half
During an opening 45 minutes in which the Red Devils were lethargic and seemed bereft of control and imagination usually brought about by the injured Eriksen, Garnacho was the shining light.
The Argentine was easily the team’s most threatening and lethal attacker during a period in which not many clear-cut opportunities were fashioned.
Garnacho constantly took his man on whenever the chance presented itself and proved to be a thorn in the backside of the Forest defence.
Forest’s defenders found it hard to contend with his pace and tricky feet and at times had to resort to cynical fouls in an attempt to stop his marauding advances.
Garnacho linked well with Shaw on the left flank. Apart from a few heavy touches, Garnacho was by a distance United’s best attacking player of the first half.
If United were to break the deadlock, it looked like the moment of inspiration would come from him. Certainly, he proved why he is an able understudy to Rashford and why Ten Hag was right to trust him in a game of such magnitude.
Fred’s midfield performance in Eriksen’s absence justifies Sabitzer’s recruitment
Against Steve Cooper’s side, United lacked the usual control and calmness injected in the middle of the park by Eriksen.
Fred was not poor and actually had a decent showing by his standards. However, the difference between himself and Eriksen was clear as day.
Fred is hardly the conductor that Eriksen is and this showed against Forest despite the Brazilian grabbing a goal in the second half.
The game tethered on a knife’s edge at times and Forest had opportunities to put the ball into the back of the net.
It’s therefore well and good that United secured Marcel Sabitzer’s signing on deadline day. The Austrian possesses a similar skill set to Eriksen and has the tools that Fred lacks.
Sabitzer’s attributes and underlying numbers make for good reading with regard to the 28-year-old being a direct replacement for the Dane.
On top of being an addition to the ranks, Sabitzer has the ability to become the perfect partner to Casemiro.
Martial and Sancho returns a big boost for Ten Hag and the team
Ahead of the game, there was excitement around the prospect of Jadon Sancho returning from his long spell away from the team and Anthony Martial coming back from injury.
The two forwards were brought on in the second half of the game and alongside Rashford, had incredible impacts.
Sancho, Martial and Rashford changed the attacking dynamic and gave Forest something else to think about. Martial got on the scoresheet after getting on the end of a blocked shot from Rashford.
Rashford registered another assist just minutes later for Fred’s goal and United’s second.
Sancho primarily played in the playmaking role with Fernandes moved to the right wing. He looked much better and more involved in the game.
Sancho and Martial’s restoration back into the team is a big boost for Ten Hag who will now be afforded more attacking alternatives to choose from.
Ahead of a busy fixture schedule, this is an invaluable asset for the manager.