Come Sunday, Manchester United and Southampton will lock horns to see who gets their hands on the first major trophy on offer in this campaign.
United will go to Wembley for the third time in nine months and having won on both occasions, it is not hard to imagine why they would start the game as slight favorites. They are in fine fettle at the moment, with five consecutive wins on the bounce – keeping four clean sheets in the process. This is the fourth Premier League team they face in this competition after wins against Manchester City, West Ham United and Hull City (over two legs). They have generally saved their best performances for the cup competitions and it will be interesting to see if Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils can keep the good run going, particularly at the home of English football.
Claude Puel’s Southampton have been the best team in this season’s League Cup so far. Not only have the Saints overcome heavyweights in Arsenal and Liverpool, but they have also managed to do it in considerable style – without conceding a single goal along their way to the final. With the added incentive of two weeks’ preparation time, the fresher South Coast side will fancy themselves ahead of Sunday, despite ‘the underdogs’ tag. Boosted by new signing Gabbiadini’s brace against Sunderland in their most recent Premier League outing, an emphatic 4-0 win against Sunderland, Puel will be hoping his Southampton could make it count in what is only the second League Cup final appearance in their history and their first major final since 2003.
Manchester United will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Phil Jones for the final. Although, they are boosted by the return of captain Wayne Rooney amidst all the speculation surrounding his long-term future at the club. Mourinho has confirmed that midfielder Michael Carrick is fit and Ander Herrera will return from his one game suspension.
Sofiane Boufal is battling to recover from an ankle injury in time for kick-off, while captain Virgil van Dijk (ankle) and Charlie Austin (shoulder) are longer-term absentees.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice on his Old Trafford debut as United beat Southampton 2-0 when the sides met at the beginning of the season in August.
In the 2015/16 campaign, both sides recorded away wins as Martial’s brace ensured a 3-2 victory for United at St Mary’s, while a late header from Austin was enough to give the Saints all three points in Manchester.
The last time the two sides met in a cup final came in the FA Cup in 1976 – with the Saints prevailing on the day, thanks to a 1-0 win.
Key Men Comparison
Ander Herrera v Oriol Romeu
A midfield battle that could potentially swing the outcome of the final itself. The Spaniards have been in fantastic form, for their respective sides, and if there is one thing that makes them both tick – it’s their application.
Herrera has been one of United’s best players under Jose Mourinho, clearly enjoying his box-to-box role under the Portuguese. He may have only one goal to his name per se, but Herrera’s work on both ends of the pitch goes deeper than mere numbers. He sets the tone for the Red Devils, with his knack of playing the right pass at the right moment like no other at United. Averaging close to 3.5 tackles per game, the 27-year old has proved himself to be one of the best ‘all-round midfielders’ in England making a very high number of interceptions, recoveries and also passes in the opposition half (1028 – fourth highest).
On the other side, Romeu, the ex-Chelsea midfielder has made one of the two deep-lying midfield positions at Southampton his very own. His work ethic and ability to shut out or break up play has been one of the vital components, if not the most vital component, in Southampton being one of the strongest defensive sides in the league, and the league cup in particular.
The Saints rely on a solid foundation to build on their attacks and Romeu, being one of the tidiest passers in the side, will have to be at his very best if they were to find success in keeping United’s star-studded front three/four at bay.
Southampton have the advantage from a physical point of view having rested well – but sometimes an extended lay-off before a big game can only chip away at the precious momentum built in the run up to it.
United, on the hand, will go with arguably better match fitness (although relatively more fatigued) and momentum, and if they can press on the advantage very early, should be able to see the match off without much hassle.
Manchester United 2-0 Southampton