Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s looks like being the bargain of the season as his double for United secured the EFL Cup against a dominant super Southampton who will be absolutely gutted by this defeat.
United won the game 3-2 in a match that the last time the two sides met in a Final was in the FA Cup Final of 1976 at the old Wembley that the Saints won by a goal to nil when the South Coast team were managed by Lawrie McMenemy.
Ibrahimovic Downs Valiant Saints
Then United were dominant but defeated and it was the reversal this time round as Southampton dominated for large periods of the game but super Jose Mourinho won’t mind as the record books will show a United victory as Ibrahimovic’s 87th minute goal won it for the Reds.
The victory gave Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho his first success since his summer appointment, as his at times erratic side saw off an unlucky Southampton who this time were beaten at the new Wembley.
It is fair to say Southampton were the better side for most of this final but were left devastated by a controversial offside decision along with the bullish inspiration provided by the 35-year-old Swede as he took his goal tally to 26 this season.
Saints’ striker Manolo Gabbiadini who is appearing to be a January transfer window snip at only 14 million saw a goal contentiously ruled out before United took an undeserved two-goal lead through Ibrahimovic’s excellent 19th minute free-kick and Jesse Lingard’s precise finish seven minutes before the interval.
Southampton, as their performance merited, were on terms with two predatory strikes from Gabbiadini either side of the break.
Oriel Romeu hit the woodwork before Ibrahimovic stole in on Ander Herrera’s cross three minutes from time to give United a victory that looked far beyond them for much of the game.
Jose Mourinho was a subdued figure throughout this final, in fact he seemed thoroughly fed up, he probably wished he had a Sutton United meat pie although in reality perhaps he was gruntled by what was a dreadful performance by his team for the most part at Wembley.
Inside, however, he will probably be chuffed to bits to be a League Cup Final Winner once more, making himself a success with United in his first season at Old Trafford and performing the same trick he used at Chelsea to ease any pressure on himself and reassure supporters they have a winner in control.
Mourinho made it his business to target this trophy in his first season at Chelsea, beating Liverpool in the 2005 final, and it was his first success in his second spell at Stamford Bridge as Spurs were beaten here at Wembley in the 2015 final.
He is now level with Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough as the most successful manager in the League Cup after his fourth triumph and takes another step on the road to rehabilitation after his sacking at Chelsea last season.
He had a warm, sympathetic exchange with his Southampton counterpart Claude Puel at the final whistle, the realist Mourinho probably realising United were outplayed for large portions of a highly entertaining final.
Ibrahimovic was Manchester United’s hero once again in the old Eric Cantona mould. Can he do no wrong? He almost single handedly dragged them from the edge of mediocrity with his 25th and 26th goals of the season, as he secured his first success in England.
He is the leader of this developing United side, no argument about that as his sublime 19th-minute free-kick flew past Southampton keeper Fraser Forster from 25 yards, although Fraser could have got a bit closer to the shot.
Three minutes away from extra time and when Wembley looked for a match-winner to decide a thrilling final, it was Ibrahimovic who found space among tiring Southampton defenders to power Ander Herrera’s cross past Forster from six yards.
It was a goal that cements his cult status among United fans and confirms Mourinho’s masterstroke in luring him to Old Trafford in one of the greatest free transfers the Premier League has seen.
United looked jaded as they were in Europa League action in Saint-Etienne on Thursday, while Saints had a two-week break.
The Saints will complain long and hard about the decision to rule out Gabbiadini’s first-half effort – a poacher’s strike ruled out for offside against Ryan Bertrand, who was way out of the action at the far post while the Italian was clearly onside.
They shrugged off that disappointment to restore parity either side of half time through the predatory Gabbiadini but had no luck whatsoever, Romeu’s header bouncing back off the post with David de Gea well beaten.
De Gea saved well from James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic and United had several near misses before snatching victory right at the death. Southampton can be proud of one of the finest performances in defeat the modern Wembley has seen – but that will be no consolation to Puel’s devastated players who sank to the ground in despair at the final whistle.
Southampton manager Claude Puel commented: “We came back with quality. Perhaps we deserve better. It’s football and congratulations to Manchester United and their players.
“Manolo Gabbiadini scored three good goals [including the disallowed goal]. There’s a lot of disappointment of course. We had a fantastic game without the reward. I hope we can continue on this level.”
His Manchester United counterpart Jose Mourinho said: “Honestly, Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding. I can see a couple of performances – Pogba similar level – but he was outstanding.
“In a match where the opponent was better than us for long periods – they deserved to go to extra time – he made the difference and he gave us the cup.
“I’m a bit emotional yes. It’s not easy to win titles and so many times. It’s not easy to cope with the pressure I put myself under.
“It was a game I was feeling the difficulty. I want to pay homage to Southampton and what they deserve. We have the cup in our hands and probably should be in extra time.”
Manchester United match-winner Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the last word: “This is a team effort. This is what I came for – to win, and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get.
“You appreciate it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me. This is what I predicted. My friend, I keep doing it. I’m enjoying it in England.”