Manchester United and Southampton will be fighting for the first serious piece of silverware for the 2016/17 season in the EFL Cup final this weekend (4.30pm Sunday, Sky Sports 1).
Jose Mourinho’s men head into Sunday’s showpiece encounter in excellent form, having lost only one of their last 25 encounters in all competitions. Their sole defeat in that time came in the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final with Hull City, a tie they won 3-2 on aggregate. Although Man Utd find themselves down in sixth spot in the Premier League, they still have the chance to win three trophies this season – the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and the Europa League.
As well as beating Hull in the last four of this tournament, Mourinho’s charges got the better of Manchester City (1-0) and West Ham United (4-1) at Old Trafford in previous rounds. They will now be looking to triumph in English football’s secondary cup competition for the fifth time in the club’s history. It might be a tough job for this EFL Cup Final preview to overlook that possibility in our betting tips’ conclusion.
Southampton will be bidding to win their first major trophy in more than four decades, with their last prize – aside from promotions and the Football League Trophy in 2010 – coming in 1976, when they beat Manchester United 1-0 in the final of the FA Cup.
Claude Puel’s men have done brilliantly to get this far in the tournament, with Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and Liverpool all beaten by the south coast outfit on the road to Wembley. The Saints have not been quite as strong in the top flight this season, with Puel’s charges currently 11th in the standings with 13 Premier League fixtures left to fulfil. A first League Cup trophy and a mid-table finish in the first division would represent a superb season for Southampton.
Mourinho is likely to be without Phil Jones (foot) and James Wilson (knee), while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a doubt and Wayne Rooney is nursing a muscle injury and could miss out once more. The former Real Madrid, Inter and Chelsea boss seems to have settled on a winning formula in terms of his team’s formation and personnel in recent weeks, with Ander Herrera thriving alongside Paul Pogba in midfield and Mkhitaryan impressing in the No.10 role. Juan Mata could shift into a central role if the Armenia international is indeed absent, or Pogba could be pushed forward and Michael Carrick restored to the lineup.
Southampton, meanwhile, will have to find alternatives to Virgil van Dijk (ankle), Charlie Austin (shoulder), Alex McCarthy (hamstring), Matt Targett (hamstring), Joel Pied (knee), Jake Hesketh (ankle), while Morocco international Sofiane Boufal is a doubt with an ankle issue.
Puel has switched between several different formations this term, but will almost certainly keep faith with the 4-2-3-1 he used in the recent 4-0 thrashing of Sunderland. A front four featuring Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse, Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic is certainly good enough to pose problems to the Man Utd backline, while new signing Martin Caceres could start at the back.
Our Preview’s EFL Cup Final Betting Tips
They may be favourites in the EFL Cup betting odds, but it is difficult to look past a Man Utd victory in this one, with the Red Devils’ superior quality of player likely to see them over the line at Wembley. Mourinho has an excellent record in this competition and will be desperate to get his hands on his first trophy since taking charge at Old Trafford last summer, while Southampton may struggle to contain an attacking unit which possesses several top-class footballers.
As for the betting tips, this preview advises putting your money behind a United win this weekend. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who scored the winning goal on his previous trip to Wembley in the Community Shield against Leicester City at the start of the campaign in August – is the obvious choice to find the back of the net anytime. In summary: