Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the winning goal as Manchester United beat Southampton to win the EFL Cup at Wembley
His two goals moved the talismanic forward onto 26 goals for the season in what is a stunning first year at OId Trafford
Southampton had the better team, Manchester United the better player. The player, in fact. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The one, the only. This was his cup, as much as theirs.
It was a great game and Southampton had the best of it. Yet they were never in front and there was always the danger it would end in tears. Why? That man.
There was never a significant period of the game in which United dominated, but nor was there a moment when Ibrahimovic did not look capable of being the deciding factor. What a player he is. For all his achievements across Europe, it has taken this, a season in the twilight of his career, to convince the sceptics here of his greatness.
Wayne Rooney holds the EFL Cup aloft after Manchester United beat Southampton to win the trophy at Wembley
Ibrahimovic had earlier curled Manchester United into the lead in the first-half with this sumptuous free-kick
It was the Swede’s 25th goal of his first season at Manchester United, as he once again exerted dominance on a big occasion
It was soon 2-0 as Jesse Lingard picked his spot and superbly found the bottom corner as he scored at Wembley once again
Lingard received a hug from close friend Paul Pogba after he found the net to make it 2-0 and put United firmly in control
Gabbiadini, who had a goal ruled out early on, got Saints back into the contest as he slipped the ball home before the break
Manchester Utd (4-2-3-1): de Gea 6.5, Valencia 6, Bailly 5.5, Smalling 5.5, Rojo 5, Ander Herrera 7.5, Pogba 5.5, Lingard 7.5 (Rashford 77), Mata 6 (Carrick 46, 6), Martial 5.5 (Fellaini 90), Ibrahimovic 8.5.
Subs: Rooney, Blind, Young, Romero
Goals: Ibrahimovic 19, 86; Lingard 38
Southampton (4-3-3): Forster 6, Cedric 6, Stephens 6, Yoshida 6, Bertrand 6, Ward-Prowse 7, Romeu 7, Davis 6 (Rodriguez 90), Redmond 7.5, Gabbiadini 8 (Long 83 6), Tadic 6 (Boufal 77).
Subs: Caceres, Boufal, Hojbjerg, McQueen, Hassen.
Goals: Gabbiadini 45, 48
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Ratings by Sam Cunningham
And he is great, make no mistake of that. The goal that won this hugely enjoyable final was great, and Ibrahimovic started and finished it. He is a target man in the truest sense of the term, always showing, always available, always offering the out ball.
That is what he did as Manchester United broke. He took the ball, knocked it some way ahead to gain distance, but knew he couldn’t win the foot race. So he laid it off. Did Ibrahimovic then sprint into the box? No, he’s too smart for that.
He watched United’s build the pressure. Anthony Martial held onto the ball and made progress, gamely. He laid it out to Ander Herrera. Now Ibrahmovic was interested. He had begun his run into the box moments earlier, timing the arrival to perfection to meet a cross with a header that left goalkeeper Fraser Forster no chance.
Did United deserve it? Probably not. Did Ibrahimovic deserve it? Undoubtedly, yes. He won the man of the match ahead of many more deserving cases from Southampton because, quite simply, that is what he was. The man of this match – Jose Mourinho’s 11th cup win in 13 finals.
Mourinho said all along that his striker would be a giant success in English football. He knew what he was getting all along. Anyone who didn’t does know. This was so tough on Southampton, but equally tough to begrudge the matchwinner his moment. What a player he is.
Wayne Rooney, who had to make do with a place on the bench, waves to a friendly face in the crowd during the warm-up
Paul Pogba went into the game looking for his first major trophy as a Manchester United player, with a weight of expectation
The fireworks go off as the teams emerge from the Wembley tunnel ahead of the much-anticipated EFL Cup final
It was a first major final in England for Ibrahimovic, having won a hat full of trophies playing in Italy, Spain and France
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho meets VIPs before the match as captain Chris Smalling introduces them
It was a big day for the Southampton fans, many of whom would be watching their side play at Wembley for the firs time
Ryan Bertrand of Southampton holds off Antonio Valencia during the opening stages of the game under the Wembley arch
The tackles were flying in early on, such as this one from Ibrahimovic on Bertrand as Oriol Romeu looks on
It looks as though Manolo Gabbiadini had put Southampton ahead but his effort was controversially ruled offside
Replays showed Gabbiadini was onside when the ball was played, but his effort was ruled out by the officials
The new Italian signing shows his dismay as team-mate Cedric Soares protests after the effort was chalked off
It is to Southampton’s great credit that considering the trio of setbacks they endured in the first-half, they still went in just a single goal behind and with claims to have been the better side.
Southampton had the best of the play, but trailed as a result of two moments of sublime individual finishing from Manchester United men. In addition, Southampton had a good goal disallowed by referee Andre Marriner, which would have opened the scoring. It was a bad break they could ill-afford against a team as well-equipped as Manchester United; on such a grand stage it must have been doubly hard to take. Many teams would have crumbled, but Southampton stayed strong.
Credit coach Claude Puel, too, for taking the game to United from the start. There were just two minutes on the clock when Dusan Tadic whipped the ball across the face of goal, unfortunate not to find a team-mate to administer the vital touch. A similar move, getting in behind United, but this time from the opposite flank should have given Southampton the lead after 11 minutes.
Southampton’s disappointment was compounded when Ibrahimovic pinged his free-kick into the back of the net
The Swede charges away to celebrate his goal, just as he did in the Community Shield final in August
Mourinho continues to bark his intructions from the touchline after United take the lead, while Claude Puel looks on
Lingard made United’s growing dominance count as he side-footed the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-0
Southampton grabbed a lifeline before the break as Italian forward Gabbiadini turned the ball past David de Gea
It was an understated celebration from Gabbiadini as he slapped hands with Dusan Tadic on his way back to the halfway line
It was Cedric on the right flank, hitting a low cross which was turned in by impressive new signing Manolo Gabbiadini. A flag was up, but the flag was incorrect. Ryan Bertrand was certainly in an offside position, but he didn’t play the ball. Gabbiadini did, and he came from behind United’s defenders. It should have stood.
As so often happens in these circumstances, Manchester United made the most of their good fortune. In the 18th minute, Oriol Romeu was booked for a foul on Ander Herrera a good 25 yards from goal. Zlatan Ibrahimovic stood over it, having scored four goals in his last four finals for Paris St Germain. It’s fair to say he enjoys the big stage. There was only going to be one taker and Ibrahimovic took full advantage of Southampton little errors. Juan Mata stepped out of the wall and left an inviting gap, captain Steven Davis was distracted by this movement and did not jump to block at the vital moment, goalkeeper Fraser Forster seemed slow to react to a ball coming in from an angle he didn’t expect. He was beaten to his right, Ibrahimovic’s 25th goal of the season. It was a lovely strike, but Southampton were not at their best to repel it.
Still, Southampton pressed. Herrera was booked for a foul on Bertrand, and soon after James Ward-Prowse had a decent shot saved by David Dea Gea. In the 32nd minute, the Manchester United goalkeeper was called on again, this time to keep out Tadic after a Bertrand cross.
Nathan Redmond fired a warning shot at the start of the second period which stung the fist of De Gea as he punched it clear
Gabbiadini charges away to celebrate in front of the Southampton fans and is followed by Romeu and Jack Stephens
Southampton went close to taking the lead but Oriol Romeu’s effort came bouncing back off the United woodwork
Rooney began to warm up on the touchline and was spoken to by Mourinho, but the Portuguese resisted bringing him on
As day turned to night at Wembley it was the Southampton fans who were in full voice as their team took control of the game
Managers Mourinho and Puel began to show tension on the touchline as the minutes ticked on by at Wembley
And then, once again, it happened. Against the run of play, United went further ahead. It is hard to say that got lucky, however, when a goal is so sweetly taken. Anthony Martial and Mata were involved in the build up before Marcos Rojo slipped the ball to Jesse Lingard in a central position. He finished beautifully, passing the ball into the far corner through Southampton legs and then running to Ibrahimovic to share the joy – it is as if he has become the father figure for the younger United players, the way Eric Cantona was to a previous generation.
And that should have been it. Jack Stephens let his frustration show and was booked for a brutal hit on Martial – as naughty as it can be, without meriting a straight red card – and Southampton could easily have given up, cup final or not. Instead within ten minutes of match time, they were level, and might even have been ahead.
The last meaningful attack of the first-half got them back in it. Ward-Prowse crossed and there was Gabbiadini again, timing as perfect as before, but this time getting a fair shake from the linesman. He nipped in front of his markets at the far post and diverted the ball past De Gea who, for once, seemed slow sensing the danger.
Shortly after the second-half restart, Nathan Redmond had a volley saved – but before the minute was out, Southampton scored again. Davis outjumped Martial on the edge of the area to recycle a corner, Paul Pogba missed his header and Gabbiadini’s reactions were sharp and splendid, a shot on the turn to give Southampton the parity they richly deserved.
But as has been the case on so many occasions in, Ibrahimovic was the man for the moment as he headed home the winner
The disappointment was clear to see on the Southampton players, including young midfielder James Ward-Prowse
Ibrahimovic was overcome with emotion at the whistle as he slumped to his knees and was congratulated by team-mates
The losing Southampton players trudge down the Wembley steps after picking up their runners-up medals
The champagne corks were popping down on the Wembley pitch after the United players collected their medals