We tipped Manchester United to win the EFL Cup way back at the start of the season, and we see no reason to change our position now that the Red Devils are just 90 minutes away from lifting the trophy. Southampton are the side standing in the way at Wembley, and the Saints have to be respected after knocking out Liverpool and Arsenal en route to Sunday’s showpiece.
Jose Mourinho’s United have occupied 6th place in the Premier League since early December, and finishing in the top four remains the priority, even if a title challenge is all but over. A 4-0 aggregate win over St. Etienne put them through to the last 16 of the Europa League, and lifting either of those trophies or the FA Cup will provide something in return for Mourinho’s first season at the club.
However, Claude Puel’s men have had a massive 15 day rest in the build up to the final – a period in which United have played three times – so the Saints will be fully prepared. Southampton beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1976 to lift their only major trophy to date, and fans will be hoping that good omen brings them fortune.
If you didn’t manage to get on at +800 with us at the start of the season, you can still side with Manchester United at -125 with Bet365, who will be live streaming the match on Sunday afternoon.
Bet365 will give you your money back on selected markets if it’s a bore draw, and offer each way odds on first goalscorers – well worth checking out if you’re betting on the game.
Road to Wembley
Southampton beat four Premier League sides on the way here without conceding a single goal. They’re the first side to go this far in the competition without letting one in, after beating Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and Liverpool. It started with a 2-0 win over Palace – Charlie Austen opening the scoring. Another home win followed as Boufal’s goal helped the Saints to a 1-0 win over Sunderland. The 2-0 away win against Arsenal was particularly impressive, despite the Gunners playing a second string side, and the Saints beat Liverpool 1-0 in both semi final legs for an aggregate score of 2-0.
Manchester United’s route began with a tricky away tie at Northampton, where late goals from Herrera and Rashford added gloss to a 3-1 scoreline. They were pitched against Manchester City in the next round, just three days after getting trounced 4-0 by Chelsea, but Juan Mata’s second half goal was enough to secure a 1-0 victory over their arch rivals. A quarter final against West Ham resulted in a routine 4-1 win at Old Trafford, and they took a 2-0 lead in the first leg of the semi final with Hull. The Red Devils lost the second leg 2-1 to the Tigers, which Mourinho famously described as a 1-1 draw, but it was still enough to see United through to the final.
The form book goes out of the window in cup competitions, or so they say, but there are pointers to be gained by looking at recent games. Manchester United’s run of five straight victories looks impressive, and they’ve only conceded once in the last seven overall. They’ve played three games since last appearing in the Premier League – Blackburn and St Etienne twice – but the momentum is with them.
Southampton have had 15 days to get ready for this while United have been appearing in other cup competitions, but it’s hard to predict whether the extended break will have helped or if they’ll start the match cold. At least the Saints can look back at a recent 4-0 win away at Sunderland in their last match, as it had been three defeats to Arsenal, Swansea and West Ham prior to that.
Mkhitaryan and Carrick are both likely to miss out on Sunday after picking up knocks at St Etienne in the week, but Jose Mourinho has the players to cover. Wayne Rooney can step in to replace the former, while Fellaini and Schweinsteiger are able replacements for the latter.
Southampton may suffer more from their absences, with Charlie Austen and Virgil van Dijk both ruled out through injury. Central defence remains a worry for Claude Puel, with van Dijk on the treatment table and his former partner Jose Fonte departing for West Ham in the January transfer window.
Looking at other markets and there will be plenty of focus on United talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The United marksman scored a hat trick against St Etienne in the first leg of their Europa League tie, and he hit the winner against Blackburn in the FA Cup. The bet that catches the eye though – at bigger odds than first goalscorer – is for the Swede to win the Man of the Match award. Bet365 are offering +400 about the big striker taking home the honours.
This is the kind of stage that Ibrahimovic thrives on, and there is no doubt that he has led the Red Devils from the front this season. You’d have to suspect that the sponsors of the EFL Cup would like nothing better than seeing the star attraction light up the final, and if United do go on to lift the trophy, one suspects that Zlatan will have had plenty to do with it.
Manchester United to beat Southampton
Sunday 26th February, 16:30 GMT
Zlatan Ibrahimovic to be named Man of the Match
Sunday 26th February, 16:30 GMT