ERIK TEN HAG told Marcus Rashford this week to stick with Manchester United and help them become the best team in the world again.
It seemed unusual hyperbole from the Dutchman.
GETTYManchester United ran out 2-0 winners against Nottingham Forest[/caption]
GETTYMarcus Rashford broke the deadlock a mere six minutes into the tie[/caption]
New boy Wout Weghorst doubled United’s advantage before the stroke of half timeREX
Yet right now there are few better players on the planet on form than the 25-year-old Mancunian to help guide United on that path.
He is key to the future of what Ten Hag is building if the ultimate goal the manager has set out is some target to achieve.
It is now 15 years and counting since they were last crowned European and World Champions.
Still, small steps, but it was another giant stride for Rashford in this Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.
A wonder goal after his delicious opener at The Emirates gave further evidence of his status in football right now amongst the game’s elite.
What a job Ten Hag has done in turning his form around from last season.
It is ten in ten since he returned from the World Cup, the best record in that time of any player in Europe’s major leagues.
It is 18 in all to go with the three he scored in Qatar for the Three Lions.
The confidence he is playing with as well suggests this run is not an exception but the new rule for him.
This goal after just six minutes was possibly the best he has scored in his career so far.
It brought gasps from the home crowd and delirious cheers from the faithful away support at the other end of the ground.
He picked the ball up ten yards inside his own half after being fed by Casemiro and the rest was a feast for the eyes.
His solo run was reminiscent of Ryan Giggs at his best.
The ball was under his spell as it rolled around the outside of his right boot.
Like a slalom skier, he eased his way in between Forest captain Joe Worrall and Remo Freuler to get a free run into the box.
Wayne Hennessey expected a shot across him into the far corner, we all did.
But Rashford allowed the ball to roll onto his left foot and he lashed a shot in at the near post. Wow!
His calm expression as he jogged away suggested he was not surprised by what had just happened.
Credit to Forest for responding to this blow in what was a cracking first half between two teams who have won this competition nine times between them.
The home side’s fourth was 1990 however, while United’s fifth was 2017 the same year Jose Mourinho did a double with the Europa League.
That was United’s last silverware and Ten Hag had earmarked this competition to end that sequence.
They are certainly the favourites now to meet either Newcastle or Southampton in the final, despite Forest’s efforts to get back into this tie.
They thought they had drawn level in the opening period when Morgan Gibbs-White broke and fed Sam Surridge who delivered a shot past David De Gea and into the far bottom corner.
All that stood in his way was VAR and a matter of inches the wrong way made him offside.
Forest kept at it with a De Gea punch returned with some venom by Gustavo Scarpa to pull a great save out of United’s goalkeeper.
With Forest pushing forward roared on by a packed crowd on the banks of the Trent they were always going to be open to waves of counterattacks from the visitors.
Bruno Fernandes killed off the tie in the 89th minuteREX
And Manchester United are very good at counter-attacking.
They ping the ball about with pace and purpose to open their opponents up.
The Red Devils did just that on 32 minutes as Antony, found Wout Weghorst who eased the ball onto Bruno Fernandes.
Antony had continued his run into the box to receive Fernandes’ final ball but Hennessey did well to slide out and smother his shot.
United got their second right on half-time.
Antony, who came in for some criticism for his performance in defeat at Arsenal, was involved again.
It was hit shot parried by Hennessey but on loan striker Weghorst was following up to fire the loose ball into the roof of the net for his first goal for the club.
After getting a dig in the ribs from Serge Aurier and going down in early in the second-half, Rashford was given a breather and subbed off and watched Fernandes kill the tie in the final minute of normal tie from the bench.
His job done, Reading in the FA Cup is next in his sights then it is the return leg of this.
And as for this tie?
“I hope anybody’s not stupid enough to write us off,” Forest’s legendary boss Brian Clough once said.
Even the great man’s genius would not be able to turn this one round.
United and Rashford are already well done Wembley Way.