Erik ten Hag was hired to bring the good times back to Manchester United.
Now, just nine months after his appointment, he is one game away from ending the club’s six-year trophy wait.
A 2-0 win against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday sealed a 5-0 aggregate victory in the League Cup semifinals.
United will face Newcastle in the final at Wembley Stadium on Feb. 26 for the English season’s first piece of major silverware.
“It is good to reach the final of course, but it is not about reaching the final, it is about winning it,” Ten Hag said. “It has to give huge motivation to us and we want to bring that cup (back).”
Substitute Anthony Martial opened the scoring in the 73rd minute and Fred added a second in the 76th, with both goals set up by Marcus Rashford. United won the first leg 3-0 at the City Ground last week.
“When you get this far you want to go one further. The damage was really done last week,” Forest manager Steve Cooper said.
Ten Hag has not made United fans wait long for a first cup final under him.
The Dutchman took charge last April and was given the task of turning the club’s fortunes around after too long in the shadows of fierce rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
The League Cup was the earliest possible final he could reach and victory in the showpiece occasion later this month would further fuel belief that he is building a team capable of competing for the biggest prizes in club soccer again.
United has not won a trophy since 2017 when former manager Jose Mourinho triumphed in the League Cup and Europa League in his first season in charge.
While Ten Hag can emulate the Portuguese coach by also winning a trophy in his debut campaign with United, his ultimate challenge is to deliver Premier League and Champions League titles.
Those were standards set by managerial great Alex Ferguson and ones United has not come close to meeting since his retirement in 2013.
Ten Hag is the fifth permanent managerial appointment since then and took over a team that finished sixth last season, 35 points below champion City.
A title bid was always unlikely this year, but United is in a strong position to qualify for the Champions League, currently fourth in the table and still competing in the FA Cup and Europa League.
“We have a good squad so we have to demand and control the high standards. You have to bring that every game. We are Manchester United. When you are a United player you have to match the standards,” Ten Hag said.
For a club that has won an English record 20 league titles, a League Cup final is a long way short of its greatest achievements. Old Trafford, however, was in party mood in anticipation of a trip to Wembley.
Supporters expected United to comfortably complete the job after taking such a commanding lead into the second leg.
Yet Forest came close to opening the scoring in the first half, only for Emmanuel Dennis’ close-range shot to be blocked by teammate Sam Surridge when the ball looked destined to find the back of the net.
United striker Wout Weghorst then saw a header come back off the post.
Ten Hag made changes, bringing on Rashford, Martial and Jadon Sancho shortly past the hour mark.
It had the desired effect with Rashford setting up goals for Martial and Fred.
United can expect a tougher challenge from a Newcastle team aiming to win its first major trophy since the FA Cup in 1955.
The Saudi-backed club has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, sitting third in the Premier League, one place above United.
The match will be a repeat of the 1999 FA Cup final, which United won 2-0.
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