Southampton have only beaten Manchester United once in the EFL Cup before, over 30 years ago, but have defeated the Old Trafford outfit in two of their last four encounters ahead of this EFL Cup final at Wembley on Sunday afternoon. Jose Mourinho’s men won the only league fixture between the sides this season, but that did come way back in August at Old Trafford. The Saints have never won the title before, coming closest as they lost to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in 1979, compared to United who have won the competition on four occasions and been losing finalists on another four occasions since that game. The odds are in favour of the Red Devils going into this one, but Claude Puel will be looking to perform the kind of upset that Birmingham City produced in this fixture in 2011 as they saw off Arsenal.
Recent Form and Route to the Final
Coming into the game having lost just one game since November, and without a Premier League defeat since their thrashing at Stamford Bridge in October, United are in superb form. However, that defeat did come in this competition as Hull won on the night in the semi-final second leg. Since then, they have conceded just one goal whilst scoring 15 goals in their last seven fixtures, with the team looking almost unbeatable.
For United, their toughest fixture in the competition came way back in their second fixture in the competition in the fourth round as they saw off their neighbours and rivals Manchester City with Juan Mata on the scoresheet. That came after a comfortable win over League One side Northampton, and before another easy victory over West Ham United in the next round. Struggling Hull City were their next opponents in the semi-final, but they were pushed close as the Tigers nearly fought back from a two-goal deficit conceded in the first leg.
Inconsistent is the best word to describe Southampton’s form, with their brilliant 4-0 win over Sunderland last time out slightly shadowed by defeats to West Ham, Swansea and Arsenal in the three fixtures before that. After conceding 10 goals in those three games, a clean sheet against the Black Cats was vital ahead of this cup final, but will not help to make Saints fans more confident on Sunday given their leaky defence featuring the inexperienced Jack Stephens.
Southampton’s run to the final has been far tougher, facing up against Premier League outfits in every round. They made fairly easy work of the visits of relegation battlers Crystal Palace and Sunderland to Saint Mary’s in their first two rounds, but then faced a trip to the Emirates where they shocked many with two first half goals to see off the Gunners. A two-legged victory over Liverpool in the semi-final rates highly among the club’s best ever moments, with Shane Long notching the unforgettable goal which put the tie to bed late on at Anfield after Nathan Redmond’s strike in the first leg.
Manchester United predicted starting XI Southampton predicted starting XI
Jose Mourinho is likely to make four changes from the side that beat Saint-Etienne in France on Wednesday evening, two enforced, with David de Gea, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial all expected to start. Wayne Rooney will have to settle for a place on the bench with Mourinho expected to name his preferred starting eleven from the players available to him for the Wembley fixture.
After two weeks without a game, Claude Puel is expected to name the same starting eleven that battered Sunderland. The major talking point will be whether Steven Davis or Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg start in midfield, but Sofiane Boufal is likely to be restricted to a place on the bench after overcoming an injury. New signing Martin Caceres is also likely to take a place on the bench after a year out through injury and having been released by Juventus in the summer.
Suspensions and Injuries
Wayne Rooney is hoping to overcome his muscle injury to be involved in some way in what could be his last ever cup final for Manchester United and is one of four key men who could miss out. Phil Jones is also nearing a return from a foot injury with a return date not yet clear, but Jose Mourinho has all but ruled out Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick after the pair were both substituted because of injuries in France on Wednesday night.
Virgil Van Dijk’s absence could prove the difference when the two sides come face to face on Sunday, with the Dutchman still unavailable after picking up an ankle injury against Leicester in January. Sofiane Boufal is another key man fighting to be fit, and he may come into contention depending on how his ankle heals this week, but it comes too soon for many other Southampton players suffering from injuries. Matt Targett and Charlie Austin face at least another month on the sidelines, whilst second choice goalkeeper Alex McCarthy is out with a hamstring problem and Jeremy Pied is nearly back from a long-term cruciate injury.
Southampton have the advantage of an extra 12 days rest and preparation time ahead of the game, but the injuries and lack of quality at the heart of their defence will make life difficult for them up against some of the best-attacking players in the country. United are in good form and will come into the game as favourites, for good reason, so we’d expect a 2-1 Manchester United win. It won’t be pretty, Mourinho cup finals rarely are, but the Red Devils should possess the quality to see off the Saints.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Susan Allen.