Manchester United were not at their best in Sunday’s EFL Cup final at Wembley, but nevertheless eked out a 3-2 victory over Southampton to win their first major silverware under José Mourinho. Zlatan Ibrahimović scored the winner in the game’s dying moments, after a brace from Saints striker Manolo Gabbiadini had wiped out an early two-goal cushion.
Southampton started the game the better of the two sides, and would’ve been a goal to the good after just 11 minutes if not for a terrible offside decision against Gabbiadini. The Italian striker arrived to tap home Cédric's low cross from the right, only for the linesman to erroneously raise his flag.
The Saints’ high tempo caused United problems, and Mourinho’s men had barely created a chance by the time they broke the deadlock midway through the first period. Ibrahimović curled a low free-kick from the edge of the area beyond Fraser Forster, giving his side the lead against the run of play.
They continued to ride their luck in the following few minutes, with James Ward-Prowse and Dušan Tadić both drawing strong saves from David de Gea. Southampton thus felt even more aggrieved when Jesse Lingard scored his second Wembley goal in as many games, stroking inside Forster’s far post after some smart build-up down the left.
It took until stoppage time at the end of the first period, but eventually the Saints did have a deserved breakthrough. A Ward-Prowse cross was met by a deft Gabbiadini touch, as the Saints gave Mourinho food for thought at the end of what had been an underwhelming half. United had the advantage, but Southampton the ascendancy.
The South Coast side’s momentum was unbroken by the halftime whistle, and within four minutes they had an equaliser. Gabbiadini again did the damage, striking a sweet shot beyond de Gea on the turn after United had failed to clear a corner.
Southampton should've been ahead just past the hour, when Oriel Romeu got up above Paul Pogba and flicked a corner against de Gea's post. As it was, United clung on, and hoped for individual brilliance or blind luck in the absence of any attacking cohesion.
United's only cause for optimism was that the game became increasingly stretched as the clock ticked on. Southampton seemed to be paying the price for their energetic approach, and Lingard almost restored United’s advantage with a near-post snapshot inside the final quarter-of-an-hour. Fatigue began to undermine organisation, and spaces were appearing at both ends of the field.
Southampton still looked the more dangerous of the two teams, but with extra time looming, United managed to strike on the counter. A fantastic cross from Ander Herrera out on the right was ripe for Ibrahimović to attack, and he made no mistake in front of Forster’s goal. This time, the Saints had no reply, and United held on for a fortuitous victory.