Seven months in to his reign, Jose Mourinho is looking at a real possibility of winning his first “real” trophy with Manchester United. Yes, it is only EFL Cup but it is still a trophy. It has been a season of ups and downs where the downs have usually been draws and not losses. However, lately, it has mostly been ups. Mourinho would want to keep the trend going and continue on the upward with his new look United team.
With Southampton beating a few tough opposition on their way to the finals, United would only be naive to consider them a simple opposition. Also, going by Mourinho’s squad selection in the recent “not-so-tough” games it does reflect the importance he gives each competition his team is in, which is all possible ones. Keeping all this in mind and the fact that it is the first cup final of the season for United, it is almost certain that Mourinho will go with the strongest squad at his disposal. However, his very decision of playing a decently strong squad every game has cost him one of his most crucial player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It remains to be seen how he accommodates losing the Armenian but it is going to be interesting. Let’s have a look at how he might tackle the situation.
Starting XI Prediction (4-3-3):
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
Sergio Romero has made some appearances in the last few games but it is almost certain that De Gea will make his comeback for the final. This might seem a little harsh on Romero who has been excellent in front of goal whenever given a chance, but with it being the final Mourinho might not want to take any risks.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind
Mourinho will also look to bring back, his best right back option of Valencia, in the squad after substantial rest. Bailly, who was red carded in the Europa League tie, has been almost as good as he has been at the start of the season and Smalling, even though not as good as last season, is starting to look decent again. Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones filled in for Bailly’s and Smalling’s absence magnificently but have not played a lot since their come back so might not start in the final. Left back is one position where Mourinho doesn’t have a lot of options and Blind would, most probably, retain his spot.
Central Midfield – Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
Carrick was a doubtful starter after he pulled up in the last game which could have forced Mourinho to change the system to 4-2-3-1 but him being fit for the tie bodes well for the team. The manager can now go with the setup that he is more comfortable with. This now looks like a well settled and balanced midfield where everyone knows their roles and responsibilities to a tee.
Front Three – Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial
Mkhitaryan’s absence will be tough to negotiate but Mata is quite an able replacement for the Armenian. He might not be conventional right-winger but makes up for it with his natural creative streak. Martial on the other hand has looked more like himself in the past few games and would most certainly start the game with him being rested in the last game. Ibrahimovic has been United’s talisman this season, scoring and leading the line single-handedly. With him at his best would mean United would go past this final hurdle in the competition easily. But even when he is not in form, he somehow brings out that one moment which results in a goal, an ability which is mark of a special player.
This might not look like a very important tournament on paper but might be one when it comes to imbibing the winning mentality and developing the habit of winning amongst this relatively young United side. Players like Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Mata, Carrick, Wayne Rooney have won quite a lot in their career but the youngsters in the team are yet to taste the real senior level success with United. This is their opportunity to bring home United’s first trophy this season and tasting what success at United is like.