Manchester United travel to play at Wembley for the second time this season, this time to play for the EFL Cup against Southampton. After doubts over the availability of Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Michael Carrick, the strong lineup that took the field for kick off included only Mata, with Carrick on the bench and Mkhitaryan not included in the matchday squad. With the EFL Cup one of three cup competitions, this game was one step towards a uniquely successful season.
United survived a scare earlier in the game, when Italian forward Manolo Gabbiadini put the ball in the back of the net, only to be flagged offside. Instead, it was United who opened the scoring through a sweetly struck free kick from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Jesse Lingard then doubled United’s lead with a calm finish from Marcos Rojo’s cross, before Gabbiadini pulled one back before the end of the first half. Not long after halftime, Gabbiadini once again popped to score, grabbing the equaliser after a corner. After playing on the back foot for much of the half, United won back the lead after Ibrahimovic towered over the Southampton defence to head in a curling Herrera cross.
United spent much of the game as the second best side, just about keeping Southampton at bay. While this might suggest that United’s best players were their defenders, the truth could not be further from that.
Up until being taken off in the second half for Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard did a respectable, if ultimately unspectacular, job in filling in for Mkhitaryan behind the striker. His direct, incisive running off the ball, while not as effective as expected, was an important aspect of United’s attacking game, and lead to United’s second goal. He also did the job of pressing higher up the pitch.
In midfield, Herrera was also a solid performer. His booking, harsh as it might be, may have been proof of this being his more reckless and clumsy performance, but he was initially tasked with holding down the midfield, and he did his job well. After Michael Carrick’s introduction, he was allowed to move further forwards, and that produced an assist for the winner.
But there can not be another option other than Ibrahimovic. He scored the opener with a great free kick and scored the goal that won the game near the end of the game. Without the goals he scored, the trophy would simply have gone to the other team. As is usual for him, he was also very involved with the link-up play and did very well in that aspect as well.
With this win, United have won their first major competition of the season, with them still deep in contention for two more cup competitions. And it simply would not have happened without Ibrahimovic’s influence. He has been scoring important goals to carry United to results so far this season, and he did it again with a trophy at stake.