Manolo Gabbiadini’s expression on the bench illustrated a distinct story. The 25-year old Italian had found the back of the net thrice, two of which were given to him. Southampton had seven minutes to legally put the ball in the back of the net, four of which was added time. It was emotionally draining. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the ‘Mancunian Messiah’ was on his knees. The whistles had begun to go off in the crowds. Everyone in Manchester United Red clamoured for Andre Marriner to blow his whistle.
When he did, it was bedlam at Wembley. Claude Puel had won the tactical duel. Jose Mourinho however, on the other hand had claimed the trophy, and he was the first to show sympathy to Puel as they embraced when Marriner did indeed blow. It was not the best of United performances, but they got away with it. Whether or not this will get the ‘Mou Trophy Era’ underway remains to be seen, but it is all smiles with a trophy in Manchester after a long long time.
As many as six changes were made to the Manchester United side that triumphed at Saint Etienne. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the one on the injury roster while the so-called ‘A-Team’ made their way back into the team. David de Gea was reinstated in goal while Marcos Rojo found his place in left-back. As far as Southampton was concerned, it was Manolo Gabbiadini who led the line while the usual suspects were the ones to make life difficult for their counterparts on the evening.
The first half got off to a flier when both sides exchanged body blows. This is something that most are not used to whilst watching both sides in the Premier League. The fans had flocked into the new Wembley from the South Coast. Even Ralph Krueger, the chairman had made his way out as well. The initial moments already had underlined that this was a rejuvenated Southampton side that was competing for the grand prize. They had never won a League Cup before and featured in the final only once previously.
The adrenaline of The Saints was there for all to see. They were making attacks down the wing and it was seeming that Mourinho’s men had been well and truly beaten in their own game. Within the initial 10 minutes, it had seemed as though the Saints had indeed set the tone. Nathan Redmond and Ryan Bertrand were the ones wreaking havoc in the Manchester backline. Of course, Paul Pogba had a shot initially, but it was quite clear that Puel’s men were indeed setting the pace.
It was not long before the ball found its way into the back of the net. Gabbiadini slammed one past De Gea. The linesman’s incorrect ruling of offside eventually ensured that the Reds had indeed been let off the hook. This match had the perfect ingredients of being perhaps one of the classics. However, despite all of their press and intensity and perhaps even pressure, it was Zlatan who eventually broke the deadlock.
On the cusp of what is normally considered free-kick scoring range, Zlatan Ibrahimovic smashed one so sweetly over the wall and into the back of the net, thus giving Fraser Forster absolutely no chance whatsoever. A few minutes and a couple of Southampton corners later, it was Jesse Lingard who netted one past Forster, completely against the run of play. There was concern on the face of Claude Puel. His side had fought and were now a couple of goals down.
As the half-time whistle inched ever so close, it was the Italian Gabbiadini who found his way past the United back line to ensure that he found the ball in the net. The 2-1 score line at the break was enough to prompt Mourinho into making a substitution at the start of the second half. Michael Carrick, fresh from a break of few matches and with the captain’s armband began the second half in earnest.
Once again, it was the adrenaline of the Saints that eventually saw the 25-year old Italian on the scoresheet once more. On either side of half-time, Manolo Gabbiadini had ensured that he had brought the Saints back into contention. What would follow would be a few substitutions from either side and both sides looking to ramp up the pressure on each other. As the 80-minute mark came and went, it was likely that the game would go into extra time. Mourinho even brought his aide Wayne Rooney as they discussed tactics. While Marcus Rashford had already made his way into the grand scheme of things, it was Rooney who prepared for a late entry.
Only one thing that would prevent the United skipper from making an entrance was a goal. This would, rather unfortunately as well would eventually be scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 35-year old Swede who eventually ensured that the Reds had a solitary goal advantage to the good. He was also seen kneeling down and celebrating the win, one wherein he had scored a couple of goals as well.
While the players danced around and celebrated their win, Jose Mourinho had a rather disappointed look on his face. Perhaps it was relief, something they had not felt in months. He even had to be persuaded by Andre Marriner to head up to collect his winner’s medal, something he did after thinking twice. However, despite all of this, Manchester United have one trophy from their massive shopping list. The Europa League and the FA Cup are the ones that remain with the Premiership all but over.