United scored at the beginning and end of the first half to put themselves in control, with Marcus Rashford netting a solo goal to continue his red-hot form and Wout Weghorst converting a simple rebound to get his first goal for the club since his loan move from Burnley.
Forest, seeking their first League Cup final appearance since 1992, gave a strong account of themselves but were unable to make the most of several promising attacks. And an 89th minute goal from Bruno Fernandes means next week’s return leg at Old Trafford is surely no more than a formality for Man United to secure a trip to Wembley.
Erik Ten Hag’s determination to make the most of a chance to win a trophy in his first season in charge at Old Trafford was evident in another strong starting lineup that included Casemiro returning from the suspension he served in Sunday’s Premier League defeat to Arsenal.
It took just six minutes for the visitors’ to go in front, with Rashford once again finding the net. This time the goal was all the England forward’s own work as he drove forward down the left from inside his own half before driving inside between two Forest defenders and firing in at the near post with his left foot.
The goal was Rashford’s 10th in 10 games since the World Cup, the most by any player in Europe’s top five leagues.
But Forest were undeterred by that early concession and on several occasions came close to an equaliser. Brennan Johnson‘s pace was a consistent threat to the United defence, allowing him to force a low save from David de Gea and later blasting over the bar when his composure deserted him at the last.
The hosts thought they had pulled level in the 23rd minute when a lightning break culminated in Sam Surridge finding the net but a VAR check ruled he had been offside.
Then right before the half-time interval, United grabbed a potentially crucial second. Antony, who had already seen one good chance denied, forced Forest goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to block his well-struck volley, allowing Weghorst to tap-in to open his United account.
It was a similar story in the second half. United went close to making it 3-0 when Christian Eriksen curled a first-time shot against the crossbar. At the other end, Forest were again left to rue a lack of clinical touch when the lively Morgan Gibbs-White fired wildly off target after winning the ball just outside the box.
Fernandes’ late strike, driving in low from just inside the box, was perhaps cruel on Forest, but will surely see Man United head to Wembley as they seek their first major trophy in six years.