Manchester United’s win gives cautious optimism for 2023

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United clinched a comfortable 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest in their first game of the Premier League after the World Cup break on Tuesday.

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial both scored within three minutes of the first half to give United control before Fred came off the bench to add a third late on.

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Erik ten Hag’s side remain fifth in the table but are just a point behind the top four and have one game in 2022 against Wolves in Molineux on Saturday.

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Fast reaction

1. Ten Hag brought hope back to 2023

Erik ten Hag wrote in his program notes that “fifth place is the right position for us” after United started the season, but there was enough encouragement that they could be much higher by May. It is now a defeat of 14 in all competitions, with the win over Forest closing the gap to just one point with Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place.

Finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League is a priority, but there are also titles up for grabs in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Europa League. There have been setbacks – heavy defeats by Brentford and Manchester City stand out – but there is little doubt that things are looking much more positive than this time last year.

Goals could still be an issue if Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t replaced in January and Ten Hag can’t find a way to get Jadon Sancho back to his best form, but even with obvious flaws in the squad there has been plenty of progress. For the first time in a long while, United fans are looking to the new year with optimism and that’s largely thanks to Ten Hag. There is hope that the new year will be a successful one under the new manager.

2. Rashford and Martial soften the blow of Gakpo’s move

Just 24 hours after revealing Cody Gakpo would join Liverpool in January instead of moving to Old Trafford, Ten Hag needed his players to show there were goals already in the team and Rashford didn’t let him in Sting. The Dutch manager has challenged Rashford to score 20 league goals this season and his fifth came against Forest after a clever corner rolled into Christian Eriksen’s box.

United are still looking for a striker to replace Ronaldo but most of the responsibility in front of goal until May will fall to Rashford and Martial, who also found the net against Forest thanks to a Rashford assist. Both Rashford and Martial have had seasons in which they have scored more than 20 goals in all competitions and it is likely they will need to line up similar numbers before the end of the season if United are to finish in the top four and win the trophy.

Martial’s first task is to stay fit – his start against Forest was only his third in the Premier League this season – while Rashford needs to make the most of a run of form that has seen him score eight goals in 13 games for the club has land since Oct 27

3. The forest must rediscover the momentum before the World Cup

Premier League survival will not be decided by away games in the top six, but Forest will want to ensure defeat at Old Trafford doesn’t start defeat. After going eight games without a win between late August and mid-October they beat Liverpool and Crystal Palace in the month before the World Cup break to move from bottom of the table and now that domestic football is back it’s important so far that they keep collecting points.

Steve Cooper’s side have a tough game against Chelsea on New Year’s Day but play bottom Southampton three days later in a crucial game at the bottom of the table. After a difficult start to life in the Premier League, it looked like Forest turned the corner before the break and at least gave themselves a chance of staying up. At one point this season, that looked hard to imagine.

Having conceded two goals in three minutes against United they never really threatened to get a result at Old Trafford but there were enough positive moments, particularly in the second half, to suggest Forest could be back here next year .

Player Ratings

Manchester United: David De Gea (7), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (7), Tyrell Malacia (6), Raphael Varane (7), Luke Shaw (7), Casemiro (8), Christian Eriksen (7), Bruno Fernandes (7), Antony (6), Marcus Rashford (8), Anthony Martial (7).
Subtitle: Alejandro Garnacho 7, Donny van de Beek 6, Harry Maguire 6, Fred 7, Anthony Elanga 6.

Nottingham Forest: Wayne Hennessey (5), Serge Aurier (5), Renan Lodi (6), Joe Worrall (6), Willy Boly (5), Ryan Yates (6), Remo Freuler (5), Orel Mangala (6), Jesse Lingard (6), Brennan Johnson (5), Taiwo Awoniyi (5).
Subtitle: Lewis O’Brien (6), Harry Toffolo (6), Sam Surridge (6), Emmanuel Dennis (6), Neco Williams (6).

Best and worst performers

Best Player: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United.
Hit the second game in a row and set up martial.

Worst performance: Wayne Hennessey, Nottingham Forest.

He started in place of United loanee Dean Henderson and let Martial’s tame shot squirm through his hands.

Highlights and notable moments

Rashford’s first-half corner kick looked just as good in a live game as it did in practice.

After the game: What the players/coaches said

Marcus Rashford on his Amazon Prime goal: “We didn’t practice it too much but it was one from the training ground. We saw that they are very man-to-man and if you can put them in the back half of the goal then you can get that a good scoring opportunity.”

Erik ten Hag on Rashford’s form to NBC Sports: “We are happy with him. He’s always a threat to any defense. He’s got a really big heart and a great shot. He’s also good on assists and on counterattacks he’s been incredibly good and he’s had a good season.”

Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Marcus Rashford has scored in five straight games at Old Trafford for the first time in his career. With five Premier League goals this season, he has more than all of 2021-22.

– With 64th career goal in the Premier League, Rashford joins Eric Cantona in eighth most in Manchester United history. He also overtakes Gabriel Jesus (63) for the third-best Premier League goals scored by players aged 25 and under since early 2016. Only Harry Kane (90) and Raheem Sterling (66) have scored more goals in that span.


Manchester United: A visit to Wolverhampton Wanderers at number 17 on New Year’s Eve.

Nottingham Forest: We’re ringing in 2023 by hosting Chelsea. Manchester United’s win gives cautious optimism for 2023

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