Manchester United needed a late winner from Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they beat Southampton 3-2 to win the EFL Cup on Sunday
Manchester United took on Southampton in the final of the EFL Cup at Wembley on Sunday when the season’s first trophy was on the line. And in what was a closely contested affair, Jose Mourinho’s side left it late, with goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard earning them a fifth League Cup triumph.
Manchester United opened the scoring through Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s superb curling free kick in the 19th minute before Jesse Lingard’s calm finish doubled the advantage soon after. The two goals proceeded a controversial moment when Manolo Gabbiadini had a goal wrongly disallowed early on in the match.
However, Gabbiadini did grab two goals to show for his efforts on either side of the break, as Southampton mounted on the pressure on Manchester United. The spoils of the game, though, were left for Ibrahimovic, who headed from close range to hand the Red Devils their first trophy under Jose Mourinho.
The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at some of the major talking points to emerge out of a closely contested EFL Cup final.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic The Man For Big Occasions
The Manchester United number nine just can’t stop scoring, can he? Many had predicted that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was going to have a hard time adjusting to life in England but the Swedish striker has answered the skeptics in an emphatic manner.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 27, 2017
Ibrahimovic has been the goalscorer extraordinaire for Manchester United all season long, and it goes without saying that he is a big reason for all the successes that Jose Mourinho’s side has already achieved this term.
Suffice to say, he was the man to pull Manchester United through when the need arose as he jumped clear of his marker to connect with Ander Herrera’s pin-point cross to score his second goal of the match – his 26th of the season and the clincher for the EFL Cup.
That goal was the sixth that Ibrahimovic has scored in his last five domestic cup finals and it also made him the highest goal scorer in England this season. It goes without saying that his form and fitness will be crucial for Manchester United’s fortunes for the rest of the campaign as the Red Devils continue to fight on the remaining three fronts.
Manolo Gabbiadini Could Prove To Be The Real Deal In England
Manolo Gabbiadini arrived in England last month as a player who had promised a lot during the early stages of his career in Italy, but failed to deliver when it counted. The 25-year-old played for five clubs during his time in Italy, but was never a prolific leader of the attack for any of his teams.
Manolo Gabbiadini for Southampton so far this season:
3 games played
7 shots on target
Clinical; exactly what they needed. pic.twitter.com/ejBldcLBZA
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 26, 2017
His goal scoring record saw him score just 65 times in 252 appearances for the likes of Napoli, Atalanta, Sampdoria and Bologna – hardly convincing numbers from a striker. So when Southampton shelled out £14 million to secure his services in January, doubts were raised about his suitability for the job.
However, just three games into his stint with the Saints, and he is starting to look more like a bargain buy rather than a needless signing. With five goals in those games, he has already doubled his tally for the season, having scored the same number of times in 19 appearances previously.
Two of those goals came on Sunday, and he should really have been celebrating a hat-trick instead. But it does give an indication that while matching these highs consistently will be tough, he is certainly one to look out for as he continues to capture imaginations for Southampton in front of goal with his deadly finishing and deft movement.
Southampton Will Feel Hard Done By
Manchester United withstood the Southampton assault all through the match to eventually scrape through 3-2, but it could have all turned out so differently. That was because not only were Southampton the superior of the two side, but also had a legitimate goal wrongly disallowed.
They’ll be devastated, but Southampton have a lot to be proud of.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) February 26, 2017
The deadlock had not even been broken yet, and it was only 11 minutes into the game as Gabbiadini scored the perfect poacher’s goal by tapping in a low cross from Cedric Soares. However, it was Ryan Bertrand who was offside instead of the Italian who was clearly onside.
It is hard to say how the match would have panned out had the goal stood, but the upper hand so early into the match was the least Southampton deserved for starting the match with a bang.
Claude Puel’s side were the better team on the evening and the devastation on the faces of the players couldn’t have been more apparent when the final whistle was blown. It was certainly a performance to be proud of, but the Southampton players will feel that they deserved a lot more from the match.
David De Gea Was The Unsung Hero For Manchester United
Fraser Forster came under fire in the aftermath of the match for not being quick enough to respond to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s free kick, which could definitely have been saved. However, that was not the case for his counterpart, David De Gea, who again proved his worth for Manchester United.
David De Gea has now won all domestic cups at Manchester United! Premier League, Community Shield, FA Cup & League Cup. pic.twitter.com/rcqt9SXnx3
— Han. (@Hannah_D94) February 26, 2017
Time and again has the Manchester United number one stood up to make himself count whenever he was needed, and Sunday was no different. He did concede two goals from Southampton that set up an enthralling finish to the game, but there was little he could have done about them.
However, when Manchester United needed him the most, De Gea was present to thwart Southampton in an emphatic fashion. He made three superb saves of note as he first denied James Ward-Prowse when Manchester United led by a goal in the first half with a low save to his right.
De Gea then followed that up with a fantastic reflex save from fiercely struck volley by Nathan Redmond before finally denying Dusan Tadic to ensure that Southampton didn’t grab the lead at any point in the match. Real Madrid are rumoured to be lurking again, but De Gea is a player who Jose Mourinho just can’t afford to sell.
Jose Mourinho And Manchester United Climb The Ladder Of Success
Finally, it was a night when both Jose Mourinho and Manchester United made history. Mourinho, on Sunday, came level with Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough by winning the League Cup for the fourth time in his three stints in England.
Most successful English clubs in history:
Manchester United (41)
Aston Villa (20)
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 26, 2017
The performance from his side was definitely not their best, but his Manchester United side showed the tenacity shown by champion teams through the years to stand victorious on the balcony at Wembley after ninety minutes of gruelling action.
Mourinho has made himself an expert in competing in domestic cup competitions, having won 11 of the 13 his various teams have participated in, and he still hasn’t lost a league cup final. The win on Sunday also saw him make history as the first Manchester United manager to win a trophy in his maiden campaign at Old Trafford.
Last, but not in any way least, Sunday’s result also meant that Manchester United became the most successful English team in history, as the League Cup triumph was their 41st major honour. So, Mourinho is back to winning trophies and Manchester United fans will hope that it is the start of the two parties being serial winners again.