Manchester United will hope to close out a disappointing 2023 on a positive note when they visit Premier League relegation candidates Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s third managerial stint in England’s top flight couldn’t have got off to a more frustrating start as Bournemouth’s stoppage-time winner condemned his Forest side to a 3-2 loss on his City Ground bow.
Quick to redeem himself, the Portuguese manager orchestrated arguably the Tricky Trees’ most illustrious performance of 2023/24 as they obliterated Newcastle United 3-1 at St James’ Park on Boxing Day.
In doing so, they became only the second Premier League side to take three points on Tyneside this season and maintained a slim two-point lead on 18th-placed Luton Town.
But with the Hatters having a game in hand, Forest’s position in the standings remains precarious ahead of a revenge-poised encounter against Man Utd.
Despite becoming the first team to score twice within four minutes at Old Trafford in Premier League history, they lost the reverse fixture 3-2, extending their losing streak to United to 11 games in all competitions.
Speaking of comebacks, Erik ten Hag’s side pulled off another incredible turnaround to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at home on Boxing Day after falling two goals behind at half-time.
As the Dutchman’s future at the Theatre of Dreams was under imminent threat following a 2-0 defeat at West Ham United last weekend, only an epic comeback could’ve saved his skin.
United did just that. Alejandro Garnacho’s brace, followed by Rasmus Hojlund’s first Premier League goal, salvaged Ten Hag’s career in Manchester, at least temporarily.
He’s still walking a trope as anything other than a win at the City Ground could compromise his long-term stay.
As mentioned above, Forest are still flirting with the relegation zone despite halting a dismal run of six defeats from seven Premier League outings on Boxing Day (D1).
Nuno now must tackle another significant problem. Losing on his touchline debut at the City Ground stretched the Tricky Trees’ losing home league streak to four matches.
You’d need to go back to 1999 for the last time they lost five top-flight home games in a row, a run that ominously featured an 8-1 battering at the hands of upcoming visitors Man United.
Forest have lost all five competitive clashes against United since earning top-flight promotion in 2022, conceding at least two goals in each defeat.
Man United’s long-standing dominance in this match-up gives travelling fans more reason for optimism after a memorable Boxing Day fightback but also amplifies pressure on Ten Hag to deliver.
Leaving Old Trafford has recently brought nothing but agony to the Red Devils faithful, with United alternating between drawing and losing on their last four competitive travels (D2, L2).
Since a scintillating 3-0 victory at Everton in late November, Ten Hag’s side have gone three consecutive away league games without finding the back of the net (D1, L2).
Ending that barren run is imperative for the Dutch manager, but the visitors may have to be patient, knowing 15 of their 21 Premier League goals this season have come in the second half.
Talismanic striker Taiwo Awoniyi is still in the treatment room, as is experienced defender Felipe, with Serge Aurier’s availability remaining questionable.
Forest will also be without their midfield anchor Ibrahim Sangare, who serves a one-game suspension for accumulated yellow cards.
Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia, Mason Mount, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire form part of a substantial injured contingent within the Man United squad.
Jadon Sancho and United no longer fit the same sentence, but slight fitness concerns surrounding Anthony Martial, Sofyan Amrabat and Luke Shaw are more pressing issues for Ten Hag.
Nottingham Forest potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Matt Turner; Neco Williams, Moussa Niakhate, Murillo, Harry Toffolo; Ryan Yates, Danilo; Anthony Elanga, Morgan Gibbs-White, Callum Hudson-Odoi; Chris Wood.
Manchester United potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Andre Onana; Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Jonny Evans, Sergio Reguilon; Kobbie Mainoo, Scott McTominay; Alejandro Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Rasmus Hojlund.
We Say: Nottingham Forest 2-2 Manchester United
Although Man United will be out to prove their Boxing Day success wasn’t just a one-off, Forest’s exceptional performance at St James’ Park demands respect.
On top of the home side’s immediate attacking resurgence on the back of Espirito Santo’s appointment, United’s backline has been porous outside Old Trafford.
On that basis, we wouldn’t be surprised if the two teams desperately seeking any glimmer of hope ahead of the second half of the season share the spoils in a high-scoring draw.
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