EFL Cup Final Preview

Claude Puel is aiming to win his first trophy as a manager and bring Southampton only its second piece of silverware in 40 years, as his side take on Manchester United in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

In 2010, I was fortunate to play a part in what was then Saints’ first trophy win since 1976, as I helped a resurgent Southampton side defeat Carlisle in another three lettered cup, the JPT or Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Little did I know this Cup win would be the beginning of an incredible rise through the divisions that saw Southampton return to The Premier League and with it, launch the careers of the likes of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, and EURO 2016 winner Jose Fonte.

Southampton are now an established Premier League side, and with these players now gone and replaced with new heroes such as Manolo Gabbiadini, Dusan Tadic and Virgil Van Dijk, the Saints continue to march on, regardless of who dons the red and white stripes.

Gabbiadini has scored three goals since joining from Napoli for £14m and the 25- year-old was outstanding against Sunderland in the Saints recent 0-4 win, which saw Puel’s men cement their place just outside the top 10.

His arrival though, came at an important point in the Saints season as the effects of competing on so many fronts saw the Saints form slump.

After being knocked out of the Europa League by Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva, a heavy loss to Arsenal in The FA Cup followed.

Successive league defeats against Swansea and West Ham saw the Saints slide down the table as they started to look nervously over their shoulder.

However, their convincing victory over Sunderland will have given them a much needed boost, ahead of a far stronger opponent than the Carlisle United side the Saints faced the last time they went to Wembley.

With Virgil Van Dijk missing through injury, Martin Caceres looks set to provide cover after signing as a free agent.

However, Cecares hasn’t made a competitive start since last February after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, whilst playing for Juventus, therefore Saints look vulnerable in the centre of defence.

Mourinho to rain on Puel parade

After Manchester City’s victory over Liverpool in last year’s final, United will be desperate to keep the trophy in Manchester.

To do so, they will look to in-form forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored four goals in the four domestic cup finals he played with previous club Paris Saint Germain.

After scoring a hat-trick against Saint Etienne in the first leg of the last 32 in the Europa League, the Swede is assured of a place in the starting line up, however, Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks doubtful after limping off in their 0-1 second leg victory, in which he scored the winner.

His injury may open the door for Wayne Rooney, who could feature after confirming he is staying at the Red Devils following reported interest from China.

If a victory would be a personal boost for Saints manager Puel, then for United it would also provide Jose Mourinho with a trophy in his first season in the famous Old Trafford  dugout, a feat no other United  manager has achieved.

I feel he will do so, thus adding to the three League Cup wins he enjoyed at Chelsea, which will leave Puel still searching for that first elusive trophy.