MAN UTD 2, NOTTM FOREST 0
(Manchester United won 5-0 on aggregate)
Manchester United avoided a seismic upset against Nottingham Forest as they booked their Wembley final place in the Carabao Cup.
Three goals ahead from the first leg at the City Ground, Erik ten Hag adopted a no-risk approach by fielding a near full strength side.
The Reds, whose last silverware was way back in 2017, added two further goals from substitute Anthony Martial, returning after injury, and Fred as they made it 12 straight wins at home for the first time since 2017-18.
They helped United establish a 5-0 aggregate victory which is a clear cut as they would have dreamt for a cup semi-final.Embed from Getty Images
Ten Hag said: “It is not about reaching the final, but about winning it. We have to forget in and concentrate on the Premier League which resumes in two days.
“The first half wasn’t great to be honest. I thought it was professional but too slow and we didn’t create too many chances. We allowed them to. The second half was much better, more tempo and we made some good goals.
“We were 3-0 up so I didn’t want to give them momentum. They were waiting for one chance to get into the game. We were searching for gaps but I think Forest played well, defended compact and we didn’t find the gaps.
“I don’t think we were frustrated but we had to be a little bit smart. You don’t want to give anything away so keep the ball. We should have done more investment like quicker switches and movement in behind.
“We just want to improve every day. I think we have a good squad, so we have to demand and control the high standards. You have to bring that every game. We are Manchester United. When you are a United player you have to match the standards.
“We have had to make lots of compromises in the season so far so hopefully now they [all players back from injuries] are all available. If you want to win trophies, you need them all to be available. You saw tonight you can bring a new dynamic off the bench.”
Captain Bruno Fernandes said: “It’s really good. We reach one final [during my time here] but we unfortunately didn’t win that one. Now we have another chance.
“I’m really happy with the performance of the team and the goals we created. We did it, we won and we’re into the final so we’re really happy.”
Luke Shaw added: “It is very special. It shows where we are at the moment. The boys are in a good moment, and we feel the crowd are with us.
“It’s a final we can really look forward to but we have a few big games first before we go there.
“It’s extremely pleasing but there’s no point going to a final if we don’t win it. It’s where we want to be.
“We want to get this club back to where it should be which is winning trophies. Newcastle are an extremely good team but it’s a big moment for us in where we want to go.”
Forest manager Steve Cooper congratulated United saying over the two legs “they were far better than us”.
However, he believed the tie could have turned their way in the opening period.
“We had two clear-cut chances in the first half. If we had scored one of them, it would have been a different game,” he said.
“We can take about belief and courage about how we stuck to the game plan and nearly got a breakthrough in the first half,” he said.
“A couple of ricochets didn’t go our way, but you have to make your own luck in some way.”
Cooper added it was great to give fans, especially the younger generation, a first cup semi-final on 30 years.
“About this time last year, we were 10th in the Championship. Now we are in the Premier League and in a cup semi-final which shows the club is on an upward trajectory.”
United made six changes from the side that beat Reading in the fourth round of the FA Cup at the weekend.
In came goalkeeper Tom Heaton, defenders Luke Shaw, Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, midfielder Fred and winger Alejandro Garnacho.
Martial and Jadon Sancho were back after injury and on the substitutes’ bench, with Sancho set to play for the first time since October 22.
Apart from David De Gea and Marcus Rashford, both on the bench, it was possibly as strong a United side as ten Hag could field with Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay and Diogo Dalot were still ruled out through injury and new deadline day loan signing Marcel Sabitzer not yet available.
Forest have not played since the first leg and they made four changes from the 11 that began the 3-0 home loss.
In came Willy Boly, Neco Williams, Orel Mangala and ex-United man Jesse Lingard who was injured in the warm up and replaced by Emmanuel Dennis.
Forest, who last reached the final of the EFL Cup in 1992, losing to United at Wembley, were without the injured Morgan Gibbs-White, Jack Colback and Ryan Yates.
Loanees Dean Henderson and Chris Wood were ineligible to play and new signings Kaylor Navas, Felipe and Jonjo Shelvey also didn’t feature.
It was a decidedly uneventful opening and it was not until the 18th minute that either goalkeeper was extended.
Then Antony cut in from the right and bent a left-foot shot which keeper Wayne Hennessey comfortably saved.
Hennessey was also called into action again just before the half hour keeping out a Casemiro shot with his outstretched leg.
Forest had their first goal attempt in the 33rd minute when Brennan Johnson’s fiercely-struck effort was beaten out by Heaton.
They had another glorious chance shortly before half time when Dennis’ goalbound shot struck team-mate Sam Surridge.
But in the dying seconds, United came within inches of making the breakthrough when Wout Weghorst’s header from Casemiro’s cross struck the upright.
Garnacho forced a decent save from Hennessey before ten Hag made a triple change in the 62nd minute as he was substituted along with Antony and Weghorst who were replaced by Sancho, Martial and Rashford.
Sancho, who had been forced to take time away from the game, was given a rapturous ovation by the fans which ten Hag said would “give him even more of a push”.
Casemiro was proving United’s most effective attacking weapon as in quick succession he headed narrowly wide and brought a diving save from Hennessey,
Martial had barely been on the field 10 minutes when he made the breakthrough.
The Frenchman made the initial break before slipping a pass to Rashford who shot was blocked by Scott McKenna only to ricochet back to Martial who swept home a low effort for his sixth goal of the season.
And three minutes later Fred doubled the lead and extended the aggregate advantage to 5-0.
Fernandes’ cross from the right found Rashford at the far post and he squared a pass across the face of goal for Fred to walk into an empty net from three yards for his fourth of the season.
Unite made their final two changes with 10 minutes left as Casemiro and Varane were replaced by Lindelof and Harry Maguire.
Forest were denied a consolation when Danilo’s drive was well parried to safety by Heaton with Surridge blazing over the rebound.
United may well have matched their winning margin in the first leg at Forest but Fernandes fired wide across the face of goal.