Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 to take home the EFL Cup on what was a dramatic afternoon at the Wembley Stadium.
The first half began at a frenetic pace with the Saints dominating the early proceedings as they pressed and harried the United players, not allowing them to settle on the ball and that stifled their attack. At the same time, Claude Puel’s side created a horde of chances and should have been ahead in the game, when January arrival Manolo Gabbiadini put the ball into the net only for the linesman to incorrectly rule it offside.
Soon after, Zlatan Ibrahimović handed Red Devils the lead from a beautiful free-kick before Jesse Lingard made it 2-0 with seven minutes left before half-time. Southampton bounced back immediately as Gabbiadini continued to be a menace for the Manchester United defence, tapping in from close range just before the half-time to make it 2-1 going into the break.
It did not take long for the Saints to get going in the second period, as they continued the same vein of form and soon enough Gabbiadini was in seventh heaven, hitting home a half-volley on the turn to bring his side level on a historic night. It could have been curtains for Manchester United when Oriol Romeu headed the ball from close range towards the goal. But his effort bounced off the woodwork to give Jose Mourinho’s side the reprieve.
Manchester United made it count at the other end, when that man Ibrahimović once again popped in at the right place to head home the winner from Ander Herrera’s cross, sending the fans into a tizzy.
It was a cup final in the truest of the senses and it lived up to the billing with some crazy see-saw moments throughout the game. It would not be wrong to say that the better team lost on the day, but United showed great character and resilience to keep going and come out with the first major trophy of the Mourinho era. Let’s assess how each Red Devil fared on the day.
Manchester United Player Ratings
David De Gea – 7/10
Made two brilliant saves when the scoreline was at 1-0 and then kept out a thunderous volley from Nathan Redmond. Could be argued that he should have done better in stopping the first goal that went into the net through his legs.
Antonio Valencia – 6/10
Started the game slowly but grew as time wore on. Had his task cut out against the pace of Redmond and the onrushing Ryan Bertrand who exploited the space left behind by him but made some crucial interceptions.
Eric Bailly – 6/10
Another player who started the game shakily for Manchester United. Lost Gabbiadini for the opener. A much-improved performance then on, defending with strength and pace.
Chris Smalling – 5/10
The captain of the evening wasn’t at his best. Despite marking Gabbiadini closely, he let him turn and hit the volley for Southampton’s second. Struggled to win aerial battles for most portions of the game.
Marcos Rojo – 4/10
The Argentine was constantly targeted by the Saints’ attackers and struggled throughout the game, making silly errors and putting his team under pressure. Did get forward well to set up Lingard for the second of the game.
Ander Herrera – 7/10
Won the free-kick that lead to the opener. He showed some neat skills with his feet and set up the second goal with a lovely floating cross. A tenacious presence and a tireless worker in the middle of the park.
Paul Pogba – 5/10
Apart from an early long-range effort, he did not do much to impose himself on the game. However, he was United’s main outlet to carry the ball out of defence. However, Southampton managed to stifle him for long durations.
Juan Mata – 5/10
Struggled to cope with the pace of the game and was terrorised by Bertrand on the right-side. Rightly withdrawn during the half-time after a poor performance where he hardly got a touch on the ball.
Jesse Lingard – 6/10
Scored the all-important second goal with a low effort, but was lucky to stay on the pitch after he avoided a second yellow card after fouling Redmond. Should have scored from close, before being taken off.
Anthony Martial – 6/10
Saw a lot of the ball on the left-hand side, but wasn’t at his penetrative best. However, he didn’t get bogged down and his persistent dribbling played a crucial role in the lead up to the winner.
Zlatan Ibrahimović – 8/10
The man of the occasion for Manchester United. Scored the opener with a lovely free-kick and sealed the cup win with a sumptuous header from close-range. Worked his heart out for his team. Absolutely colossal for Mourinho’s team.
Michael Carrick – 6/10
Provided a semblance of control in the midfield after coming on for Mata at half-time.
Marcus Rashford – 6/10
Replaced Lingard in the 77th minute and forced Fraser Forster into a good save from a tight angle.
Marouane Fellaini – N/A
Sent on by Mourinho in place of Martial after the third strike, to see out the game.