London is the place to be on Sunday evening when two best teams remaining in the competition, Manchester United and Southampton go head to head against each other for this season’s first shot at silverware in the final of the EFL Cup at the Wembley Stadium.
It is a meeting that brings about recollections of when the sides met in the 1976 FA Cup final, where a Bobby Stokes goal gave the then Second Division Saints the proudest moment of their history. And although victory here would not be quite as much of an upset, the South coast club are undoubtedly the underdogs again this time around.
Jose Mourinho took over at Manchester United last summer and is looking to mark his first season in charge of the club with a trophy. It took him some time to find a settled side that he could rely upon, but the former Chelsea boss has begun to get the best out of his expensively assembled squad, and it seems only a matter of time before they start challenging for the top honours. Despite sitting in sixth place in the Premier League and 15 points behind league leaders Chelsea, United head into a ninth League Cup final in fantastic form – losing just once since October last year.
On the other hand, Southampton have produced few moments of brilliance this season under the tutelage of new manager Claude Puel. The Saints, who have had a fortnight to prepare for the final, defeated Sunderland 4-0 in the Premier League last time out, with January signing Manolo Gabbiadini scoring twice to make it three goals in two games. That ended a run of three straight defeats for Puel’s side, who secured a 2-0 aggregate success over Liverpool in the semi-final to reach their only second League Cup final.
Today’s game will be United’s 9th League Cup final and they have lifted the trophy four times with the most recent one being in 2010 against Wigan Athletic. Meanwhile, Southampton have been in just one previous League Cup final, losing in 1979. Both sides come into this game having won their previous game with Southampton destroying Sunderland 4-0, while United registered hard-fought victories over Blackburn Rovers and Saint-Etienne to progress into the latter stages of the FA Cup and the Europa League.
DATE, TIME AND COVERAGE
Sunday 26 February, 16:30 GMT (22:00 IST) kick-off. Live on Sky Sports 1/HD (Ten Action & Ten HD). Live match commentary on BBC Football.
Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick (calf) are available for today’s final, but Henrik Mkhitaryan (hamstring) is a big doubt for Manchester United. Club captain Rooney missed the midweek trip to Saint-Etienne as he returned to fitness following a muscle injury, but has been confirmed as part of the squad heading to Wembley. Phil Jones (foot) is a doubt, but Ander Herrera returns to the team after serving a one-game ban in the Europa League.
Martin Caceres and Sofiane Boufal (ankle) are hoping to be included in the Southampton squad, with Uruguayan defender potentially making his debut after his recent move to the South coast side as a free agent. However, Virgil van Dijk (ankle), Charlie Austin (shoulder), Alex McCarthy (hamstring), Matt Targett (hamstring) and Jeremy Pied (knee) all miss out through injury.
ROAD TO WEMBLEY
Mourinho’s men began the EFL Cup run with a 3-1 victory away to League One side Northampton Town, before a Juan Mata strike earned United a 1-0 victory in a tight Manchester derby to knock out the cup holders at Old Trafford. Braces from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial helped the Red Devils rout West Ham United 4-1 in the last eight. In the semi-finals, the Red Devils saw off a resilient Hull City side 3-2 on aggregate. United won the first leg 2-0 at Old Trafford, but the Tigers edged the return leg 2-1 to end United’s 17-game unbeaten streak.
21-Sep-16 – 3rd Round – Northampton Town 1-3 Manchester United (Carrick, Herrera, Rashford)
26-Oct-16 – 4th Round – Manchester United 1-0 Manchester City (Mata)
30-Nov-16 – 5th Round – Manchester United 4-1 West Ham United (Ibrahimovic(x2), Martial(x2))
10-Jan-17 – SF, 1st Leg – Manchester United 2-0 Hull City (Mata, Fellaini)
26-Jan-17 – SF, 2nd Leg – Hull City 2-1 Manchester United (Pogba)
Southampton, on the other hand, encountered Premier League opposition in all four previous rounds. Puel’s outfit overcame Crystal Palace 2-0 in the third round, before a 1-0 win over Sunderland set up a quarter-final clash away at Arsenal. Goals from Jordy Clasie and Ryan Bertrand secured a famous 2-0 win for the Saints. In the last four, they recorded a 1-0 first leg win over Liverpool, before a late goal from Shane Long at Anfield doubled their aggregate advantage and ensured they reached the final without conceding a single goal.
21-Sep-16 – 3rd Round – Southampton 2-0 Crystal Palace (Austin, Hesketh)
26-Oct-16 – 4th Round – Southampton 1-0 Sunderland (Boufal)
30-Nov-16 – 5th Round – Arsenal 0-2 Southampton (Clasie, Bertrand)
11-Jan-17 – SF, 1st Leg – Southampton 1-0 Liverpool (Redmond)
25-Jan-17 – SF, 2nd Leg – Liverpool 0-1 Southampton (Long)
HEAD TO HEAD
Played – 125
Manchester United Wins – 68
Draws – 29
Southampton Wins – 28
HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES
19-Aug-16 – Premier League – Manchester United 2-0 Southampton
23-Jan-16 – Premier League – Manchester United 0-1 Southampton
20-Sep-15 – Premier League – Southampton 2-3 Manchester United
11-Jan-15 – Premier League – Manchester United 0-1 Southampton
08-Dec-14 – Premier League – Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
Manchester United – WWWWW
22-Feb – Europa League – Saint-Etienne 0-1 Manchester United
19-Feb – FA Cup – Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Manchester United
16-Feb – Europa League – Manchester United 3-0 Saint-Etienne
11-Feb – Premier League – Manchester United 2-0 Watford
05-Feb – Premier League – Leicester City 0-3 Manchester United
Southampton – WLLLW
11-Feb – Premier League – Sunderland 0-4 Southampton
04-Feb – Premier League – Southampton 1-3 West Ham United
31-Feb – Premier Leauge – Swansea City 2-1 Southampton
28-Jan – FA Cup – Southampton 0-5 Arsenal
25-Jan – EFL Cup – Liverpool 0-1 Southampton
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
The giant Swede arrived in Manchester with a massive reputation and has proved his worth during his debut season in English football. He has already figured in 37 games for United this season, scoring 24 goals. And, as has been typical throughout his career, he has made this United side very much his own, leading in his own unmatched style. His last visit to Wembley saw him win United the Community Shield with a towering header against Leicester City and he will be hoping to do same against the Saints.
Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton)
With the departure of Graziano Pelle and a long-term injury to Charlie Austin, Southampton needed a player who could score goals and finish chances, and their answer to the problem was Gabbiadini. So far, he looks like a great addition, as he has been prolific in his first two Premier League games, scoring three goals. Except for the one miss chance against West Ham, the Italian international has been flawless since his move to England, and if given the opportunity, he will score against United.
Paul Pogba v Oriol Romeu
While Manchester United are growing increasingly reliant on goals from Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba is quietly doing his job and putting in the man of the match performances. The Frenchman is doing exactly what the Red Devils paid a word record transfer fee for as he offers a dominating presence in the middle of the park, pulling the strings keeping his side ticking. Going toe-to-toe against Pogba in midfield will be Oriol Romeu and the former Chelsea man will be integral to Saints hopes of lifting the cup. The Spaniard will be key to cutting the supply line to Ibrahimovic and preventing Pogba from enjoying too much time on the ball as he looks to continue his fine form.
Manchester United (4-3-3) – David De Gea; Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind; Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba; Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial.
Southampton (4-2-3-1) – Fraser Forster; Cedric Soares, Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand, Oriol Romeu, Steven Davis; James Ward-Prowse, Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond; Manolo Gabbiadini.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
- Southampton have reached their second League Cup final, having previously done so in 1979 when they lost 3-2 to Nottingham Forest under the management of Lawrie McMenemy.
- This will be Manchester United’s ninth League Cup final appearance; of the previous eight, they have won four and lost four, but three of those four victories have been in their last three finals (2006 v Wigan, 2009 v Spurs and 2010 v Aston Villa).
- Only Liverpool (12) have appeared in more League Cup finals than Man Utd (9) and only Arsenal (5) have lost more finals than the Red Devils (4).
- Southampton are just the second side in League Cup history to reach the final without conceding a goal – Tottenham Hotspur managed this feat in 1981-82, but lost the final 3-1 to Liverpool.
- This is the second time these sides have met in the final of a competition, having met in the 1976 FA Cup Final. Southampton, then a second tier side, defeated United 1-0 thanks to a Bobby Stokes goal; it remains the only time they have won a major English trophy.
- Jose Mourinho has reached the League Cup final three times previously (2005, 2007 and 2015), winning the trophy each time with Chelsea. Indeed, he has the best 100% win percentage for a manager in League Cup finals.
- Only Brian Clough (4) and Alex Ferguson (4) have won the League Cup more times than Jose Mourinho (3).
- Mourinho has never lost an English domestic cup final in his career, also winning the FA Cup in 2007.
- Claude Puel has only reached a major domestic cup final once before in his managerial career, taking Monaco to the final of the French League Cup in 2001, where they lost 2-1 in extra-time to Lyon.
- This is Saints’ first appearance at Wembley since winning the Football League Trophy in March 2010 against Carlisle.
- Southampton will be the third team that Manchester United have played in both an FA Cup and League final, following Aston Villa and Liverpool.
- No player has assisted more goals in the League Cup this season than Henrikh Mkhitaryan (3).
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four goals in the four domestic cup finals he played with Paris St-Germain (excluding Super Cups), netting a brace in the 2015 Coupe de la Ligue final against Bastia, and another brace in the 2016 Coupe de France final against Marseille.
Name – Andre Marriner
Based – Sheldon
Age – 46
Games – 26
Yellow Cards – 102
Red Cards – 6
Manchester United 3/4, Draw 11/4, Southampton 4/1
Manchester United are certainly the team in form and arguably the more likely team to come away with a victory, but if the past has taught us anything, is that form goes out of the window in a cup final. The onus is on the Red Devils to take the game to Southampton. Mourinho’s men will control the possession but will find it hard to unpick an impervious, organised defence, who are yet to concede a goal in the League Cup this season. Southampton will look to exploit on the counter just like they did against Arsenal and Liverpool. They will have to work harder if they are to win this game but as they have shown in the last couple of rounds, they can upset the big teams. However, with the likes of Zlatan, Mata and Martial in United’s attack and Mourinho’s 100% record in cup finals, it may just be a step too far for Puel’s troop.
Predicted Score – Manchester United 2-0 Southampton
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.