Only Erling Haaland has scored more goals than Marcus Rashford among Premier League players this season, so the England striker’s progress is evident in his 18-year-old years.th The season allowed Manchester United to have one foot in the Carabao Cup final.

If Sunday’s defeat at Arsenal dampened hopeful dreams of Premier League glory, it helped fuel Erik ten Haag’s appetite to land a more realistic target of silverware in the Cup. His starting XI came up short against Nottingham Forest in the first leg of this semi-final as further goals from Wot Weghurst and Bruno Fernandes gave them a comfortable cushion in the return leg at Old Trafford next Wednesday.

Casemiro’s return from suspension at the Emirates brought a calm and a drive to United’s midfield but it was Rashford’s brilliant directness that helped separate them from their opponents who are now free to focus on retaining their Premier League status.

Forest had the better of the first half, but Fernandez rammed home a low drive a minute from time after Anthony Elanga had sent him off, providing a measure of the difference between these teams.

Rashford currently trails Haaland’s tally of 31 goals, more goals than United, while Arsenal trail in the league but it is encouraging for Ten Hag as he looks to end United’s six-year wait for a trophy.

In this competition and then against these opponents, in the week around Christmas, Rashford’s hot streak began. Helping Burnley out of the competition and then starting the previous 3-0 rout of Forest at Old Trafford, the man looked to be back at the height of his game. How has he fared since then?

The opener here was his 10th goal in ten games since the World Cup and he was 18 years oldth For United this season. How simple he can make the game. There didn’t appear to be much danger as Lisandro Martinez, near his own byline, found Fernandes. His pass invited Rashford to come inside his own half. Still, Forest didn’t seem too upset. Maybe they should have been. Rashford simply ran into Remo Früller and Joe Worrall, then between them, before slotting the ball onto his left foot to pass the ball between Wayne Hennessey and his near post.

Rashford became the first United player to score five goals in a League Cup campaign since Carlos Tevez managed six in 2008/09. “There are other players playing really well,” Ten Haag said. “But I’m really happy with Marcus.”

Wout Weghorst scored his first goal for Manchester United against Nottingham Forest. Photo: Tim Good/PA

Forest hit back almost straight away, leaving Ten Hague with a key point to warn his players later. United bravely left three men up as they attacked, with Danilo sending Morgan Gibbs-White scampering wide to give them the advantage. He waited too late – too late – it appeared – for Sam Surridge to sidefoot neatly into the far corner with his right foot. VAR ruled the striker fresh offside with a knee in their equalizer at Bournemouth on Saturday. “There shouldn’t have been offside,” Forest manager Steve Cooper said. “There was time to make it right.”

It gave Forest heart though and when Gibbs-White’s corner was cleared by David de Gea, Gustavo Scarpa sidefooted a volley from outside the penalty area to save the United goalkeeper. Brennan Johnson also had his favorite down the inside-right channel but his first effort was saved low down by De Gea and his second blasted wide of the near post.

The game was increasingly going from end to end, a second goal looked imminent, and when Antony combined well with Wegerst to get clear, Hennessy, subbing for the unfit and injured Dean Henderson, saved brilliantly.

United kept the game at 45 runsth But minutes. Antoni started the move with a neat ball around the corner towards Casemiro, returning late before shooting. Hennessy crossed and Weghurst slotted the ball into the net on the rebound for his first United goal.

Whether Forest was brave or naïve, leaving three-up when United attacked, it helped make this game a spectacle. Christian Eriksen curled a beautiful shot at the angle of the bar and post and Gibbs-White lashed a left-footed shot at the other end before Casemiro stole possession.

After receiving a knock in the ribs from Serge Aurier, Rashford’s night, looking ahead to the coaching duo of Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland, was replaced by Alejandro Garnacho. United had already done enough.

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