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.
Jose Mourinho should build Manchester United around Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford returned with a bang against local rivals Liverpool on Saturday.
In his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to victory over fierce rivals Liverpool. The 20-year-old’s first-half brace was the perfect way to mark his return to the starting XI, which had been confirmed following an injury to Paul Pogba.
Rashford has been a peripheral figure since Alexis Sanchez joined the club in the January transfer window. But, in arguably the biggest fixture on the Premier League calendar, the England international grabbed with both hands a rare opportunity to impress as United moved five points clear of Liverpool.
There was no evidence that Rashford’s prolonged spell out of favour had affected his self-confidence. His first goal was bursting with skill and composure. After latching on to a long ball from Lukaku, Rashford bamboozled Trent Alexander-Arnold before firing past Loris Karius.
Although his second found the net with the aid of a deflection, once again it was a testament to his sharpness. Despite his limited game time, that’s now 12 goals in all competitions this season for the World Cup hopeful.
Rashford’s stunning contribution will certainly give Jose Mourinho food for thought. The Portuguese has regularly picked Pogba, Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of Rashford of late, in the attacking trio behind Romelu Lukaku.
While Martial and Lingard have justified their selections, the same cannot be said of Pogba, who at times has looked uninterested. Sanchez too has yet to exhibit his best form in a United shirt since joining from Arsenal.
History has taught us that Mourinho rarely excludes his high-profile players, regardless of form. Had Pogba not been sidelined through injury, it is entirely likely Rashford would once again have been forced to watch on from the bench. Consequently, what transpired against Liverpool might have been a mere fantasy.
United have a proud tradition of producing homegrown players and not relying on foreign imports. Look at the treble-winning side of 1999, whose success was founded upon a British core.
Admittedly, the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The riches of the Premier League mean a club of United’s stature is able to cherry-pick the world’s best players. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. The club’s identity is sacred and, in recent times, United have been in danger of losing theirs.
The fact that Rashford was not signed for £75 million should not preclude him from being United’s centrepiece. As he reminded everyone in his performance against Liverpool, he has all the talent required to be a fixture at the club for years to come.
However, he needs to be playing regular football. A few minutes here and there will not accelerate his development. On the contrary, it could risk one of this country’s most promising starlets becoming an unfulfilled talent.
Rashford offers United something different from his team-mates. He gets supporters off their seats and electrifies the atmosphere thanks to his blistering pace and trickery, which in many ways is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford.
These are qualities not usually associated with Mourinho, who throughout his time in management has always demanded his players to be tactically aware. Rashford is a wildcard, the ace in the pack that can conjure something out of nothing.
Forget Pogba and Sanchez, If Mourinho gives Rashford an extended run in the team, he and United will flourish.
Are Manchester United finding form at the perfect time?
Jose Mourinho out-smarted Jurgen Klopp on Saturday to strengthen Manchester United’s grasp on 2nd.
Manchester United have been criticised for their style of play this season, while some have suggested they are a team of individuals. However, they delivered a very good performance to beat rivals Liverpool to build up a five-point lead in second place.
Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the effort and cutting edge of his team, as he got the better of Jurgen Klopp in a huge game to strengthen his team’s position in the top four.
Paul Pogba missed out through injury, which would have been a disappointment before a ball was kicked. However, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic dominated the midfield areas with 13 ball recoveries in the ninety minutes. Ahead of them, Juan Mata added creativity and an attacking threat, especially in the first-half.
The Spaniard came close to scoring before the break with an overhead kick effort and his distribution was nearly faultless, as he finished the match with a 90% pass success rate.
The 29-year-old has had problems with Mourinho in the past, but he has emerged as a great squad option, especially in big matches. In addition to his nice touches on the ball, he made three ball recoveries. This underlines how he has bought into the style of his manager.
Marcus Rashford was another player to come into the team and he showed why he was selected as he scored twice to put Manchester United into a commanding first-half lead. His two goals were similar as they both came from Romelu Lukaku knock-ons. Mourinho knew Liverpool could be targeted with a direct approach and it worked.
The first showed great movement from Rashford as he gambled on his team-mate winning the ball and that gave him the march on the Liverpool defenders. He then coolly dropped a shoulder and cut inside before firing past Loris Karius. It showed impressive composure and skill in the final third. The England international has sometimes struggled with his final ball, but he was back to his best on Saturday.
He then added a second that once again showed his excellent finishing ability. Another long ball caused chaos, but it didn’t go directly to Rashford this time. When it did drop at his feet on the edge of the area, he delivered a perfectly measured shot to make it 2-0. It is now up to the 20-year-old to push on over the coming weeks to become a regular starter for club and country.
Jose Mourinho flourishes when he is defending a lead. He prefers to control matches without possession and that was the case on Saturday as his team had only 31.9% of possession. Liverpool had 14 attempts to Manchester United’s five, but the result was never in doubt.
That is highlighted by the expected goals. Michael Caley’s model valued the home side’s chances created at exactly 1.0, while it valued Liverpool’s opportunities at 0.8.
To put this into context, Manchester United had less possession and had fewer attempts, but they created the better chances and kept an in-form Liverpool attack relatively quiet.
The finish was made nervy by an unfortunate own goal from Eric Bailly. The defender couldn’t repeat what he managed even if he tried and it is difficult to prepare for such a bad piece of luck. Luckily for Mourinho, his side had a two-goal lead and the own goal didn’t push them.
The majority of Manchester United players can be pleased with their performances, but Ashley Young was perhaps the standout player. The 32-year-old made 10 ball recoveries and made five clearances to help the defensive effort.
Mohamed Salah was rarely in the game and the England international deserves huge credit for his role in that. He was disciplined and rarely ventured forwards. If he can continue to perform to that level, he would emerge as a great World Cup option for Gareth Southgate.
The past week for Manchester United has been a positive one and it should provide them with momentum to finish the season strongly. They showed great spirit to fight back from 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to get three points and they displayed excellent game-management to dispatch of one of their rivals.
They are now in a good position to finish second and that would be an achievement of sorts given the consistency of Manchester City. In addition to that, they can target Champions League success.
They aren’t one of the frontrunners for the competition, but they are good at managing games and have beaten now Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. If they can improve away from home, they could reach their peak at the perfect time.
Jose Mourinho has a record of doing that and this result should encourage supporters that this season could follow a similar pattern.
Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park
The Red Devils mounted an incredible comeback at Selhurst Park.
Nemanja Matic scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Manchester United overturned a two-goal deficit to inflict more pain on struggling Crystal Palace. Matic fired home from 25 yards to complete a memorable comeback from United, whose victory helped them regain second spot in the Premier League. Palace, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone after slipping to their third successive defeat.
Selhurst Park was rocking when Andros Townsend put the hosts ahead via a huge deflection, before Patrick van Aanholt doubled their lead shortly after the break. However, Chris Smalling gave United hope 10 minutes later and the visitors then restored parity through Romelu Lukaku. With time ebbing away the draw looked inevitable, only for Matic to break Palace’s hearts with his first goal for the club. Here are three talking points…
Palace’s survival hopes suffer a hammer blow
A week earlier, the Eagles thought they had earned a vital point against Spurs in their battle to avoid the drop. That was until Harry Kane popped up to snatch victory with practically the last touch of the game. A sense of deja-vu was palpable when, after another encouraging performance against one of the top-flight’s heavyweights, Matic ensured Palace went home empty-handed. It was a monumental body blow.
Roy Hodgson’s side had belied their lowly league position and taken the attack to United, deservedly assuming complete control. Had the score remained at 2-0, Palace would have been as high as 13th in the table. But United’s comeback, which left Hodgon and his players visibly deflated, means they are 18th, one point adrift of safety with an inferior goal difference. Although the performance was a positive one, the result leaves the South London club deep in the mire.
Mourinho buoyed as United show resilience
For all the talk about how this has been a disappointing campaign for United, they leapfrogged Liverpool into second place as a result of this stunning victory. Jose Mourinho’s men exhibited substantial amounts of steel in doing so. They faced a real test of character, having fallen behind against a team fighting for their lives. It looked like a mountainous task, but United fought their way back into the game before snatching all three points at the death.
This was the first time since 2013 that the Red Devils had clawed back a two-goal deficit to win a Premier League match. Of all their victories this season, perhaps this one will please Mourinho the most. Any divisions are quickly exposed when teams find themselves in trouble. But the way United stuck to their task was a big statement at a key stage of the season. It should give Mourinho belief that his side can see off the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the battle to finish runners-up.
Hodgson desperate for Wilfried Zaha’s return
Hodgson has previously tried to dismiss its significance, but Palace’s inability to win without Wilfried Zaha cannot be passed off as an anomaly. The Eagles have lost every single one of the nine Premier League games in which the 25-year-old has not featured this season, scoring only one goal in the process. For a while it looked as though that alarming record would be consigned to the history books, until United mounted an inspired comeback.
Zaha is clearly a talented individual whose absence would affect any team’s potency, but Palace’s over-reliance on him must be very concerning. The Ivory Coast international is currently sidelined through a knee injury and although he is back in light training, Hodgson has put no timeframe on his return to the fold. It’s no exaggeration to argue the Eagles’ survival aspirations depend on him.
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