EFL Cup Final: Southampton v Manchester United


The first chance to win a trophy. However cynical you may feel about the EFL Cup, when it comes to final day at Wembley, one can’t help but feel the faint tingle of anticipation rise to the surface. I think these tournaments - the League Cup and FA Cup - may have lost some broader significance with the importance of European football - but they do represent a good chance to win a trophy in a country currently saturated with good sides. Mourinho - a three-time winner of this tournament at Chelsea - will be the first guy to tell you how vital that culture of winning is. Southampton have been in cruise control in the league ever since qualifying for the final, but make no mistake, there is plenty of talent in this side and they will pose a real threat to United’s quest for silverware this weekend.

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Southampton v Manchester United | Sunday 26 February | Wembley Stadium | 18:30

To Win (90 Mins)
Manchester United 15/20 | Draw 49/20 | Southampton 15/4

The absence of Van Dijk is obviously a huge blow for Southampton, especially considering the shock departure of Fonte. Jack Stephens has been a revelation since he came into the side, but I still expect his central-defensive partnership with Yoshida to experience a high degree of pressure. The midfield muscle of Romeu and Davies could prove a tough test for United. Romeu is a throwback; a no-nonsense holding midfielder that will do anything to break up play. They also have the outrageous dead-ball delivery of Ward-Prowse to give them an alternative option.
I have no doubt that Tadic and Redmond will play on the outside of the striker, especially with Boufal injured. Now, who is going to start up front?  There are a slew of options, even with Charlie Austin’s long term injury. Jay Rodriguez has come back well from injury, while Shane Long is perfectly suited for playing on the counterattack. But my money is on Gabbiadini, who has shown since joining the club that he has an acute eye for goal. Long can be brought on in the second half when bodies - and minds are fatigued. Southampton will enjoy the bigger ground of Wembley, which perfectly suits their counterattacking style.

Manchester United
United’s inevitable progression into the next round of the Europa League seems to have come at a pretty hefty price. Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks set to miss out through injury after scoring the winner on Wednesday. The influential Armenian has been electrifying in recent weeks and will be sorely missed.  I would expect Mata will likely fill in that number ten role. Michael Carrick will also likely miss out due to injury, which introduces a whole new set of complications.
Ideally, Mourinho would have probably preferred to play Pogba in a more advanced role this week, especially with the Mkhitaryan injury. He will likely partner Herrera in the heart of midfield, as I doubt he will trust Marouane Fellaini against that swift Southampton counterattack. United will likely have over 60% possession, but they need to be wary of that Southampton counter. Valencia will need to watch those buccaneering runs with the likes of Redmond and Tadic switching flanks.

Verdict: Halftime-Fulltime Double - Draw/United 32/10
 A drawn first half, followed by a United victory in the second. This has been a popular call for me. Mourinho’s side have a habit of callously grinding out games. This will probably be exacerbated by the fact that it’s a final. But the goal-scoring exploits of Zlatan coupled with the vision of Pogba and Mata should combine at some stage to give them a victory.  

Written by Damien Kayat @ @Hollywoodbets.net!

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