Manchester United marked their return to Premier League action with a comfortable 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford on Tuesday. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial both scored in a routine first half, and Fred iced the cake with a third late in the second. The win brings United within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand.
A combination of illness and injury forced Erik ten Hag into selecting an unusual defensive line, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka handed his first league start of the season at right-back, and Luke Shaw shuffling across to partner Raphaël Varane at centre-back; Tyrell Malacia started out on the left. Harry Maguire was only fit enough to make the bench, while Victor Lindelöf, Scott McTominay and Lisandro Martínez missed out entirely.
Fortunately, United’s makeshift back line had relatively little defending to do. United dominated from the first whistle, and almost broke the deadlock in just the sixth minute when Wayne Hennessey parried a powerful Malacia drive onto his near post.
United prodded and probed, and broke the deadlock from a training ground corner routine just inside the 20 minute mark. Christian Eriksen played his corner low towards the penalty spot, where an onrushing Rashford beat the Forest defence to angle a rising effort inside Hennessey’s far post.
Within five minutes, United were two up. This time it was a brilliant counter-attack, triggered by a Casemiro recovery deep in the United half. Bruno Fernandes sent Rashford scampering down the left, who cut inside and laid off for Anthony Martial; his side-footer from the edge of the box squirmed past a hapless Hennessey.
United’s only scare came five minutes before halftime, when Ryan Yates shrugged off Wan-Bissaka to nod a free-kick past De Gea for 2-1. However, replays showed the header to have taken a deflection off Forest defender Willy Boly in an offside position, and the goal was duly chalked off after a VAR review.
United should’ve killed the game off 10 minutes into the second half, when Antony squandered a gilt-edged chance for 3-0. He was sent clean through by a deft Rashford prod, though the Brazilian’s low shot from the right side of the box was stopped by the Welsh keeper. Fernandes presented Martial with a similar chance less than five minutes later, though again Hennessey made a stop with his legs.
Still, at 2-0 ten Hag was confident enough to make some experimental substitutions, with Alejandro Garnacho and Donny van de Beek introduced in place of Martial and Antony. Casemiro almost added a third form a corner inside the final 20 minutes, though his audacious chipped effort was tipped over the top by the Forest keeper.
With the game having reached a stalemate, ten Hag made two further changes: Maguire and Fred were brought on for Varane and Eriksen. It proved a smart substitution, with Fred netting United’s third late in the second half. He sprinted onto a perfect low pass from his compatriot Casemiro, angled in towards the left side of the Forest box, lashing inside the far post for a satisfying third.