Southampton Stand Between Mourinho, Fourth EFL Trophy

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The first major silverware of the English season will be decided on tomorrow when Manchester United take on Southampton in the EFL Cup final, at the Wembley Stadium and all eyes would be on Jose Mourinho as he targets his fourth EFL Cup win and second silverware for The Reds

Jose Mouriho’s love  for the EFL Cup continues and his record is something to be admired; never been defeated in 90 minutesresulting in three tournament wins. This bodes well for Manchester United. Considering Mourinho also opened his United career in a 2-1 Community Shield win against Leicester at Wembley, makes it seem that silverware is on the cards.

Standing between Jose and Cup number four is a resilient Southampton side. Southampton saw off Liverpool with 1-0 victories in both legs of the semi’s. However, Southampton are plagued with injury problems – both Austin and Van Djik will miss out on the big game. As they always do, though they will come together  with strong teamwork and desire, mean they are certainly no push overs.

Mourinho surprised a few pundits by playing most of his star players against St Etienne in the Europa League on Wednesdaydespite the fact United went into that clash with a 3-0 advantage from the first leg. And while the Red Devils punched out a 1-0 win in France the victory came as a cost with Michael Carrick and Henrikh Mkhitaryan hobbling off with calf and hamstring injuries respectively.

United have now lost just one of their last 25 matches in all competitions and such ominous form has made them favourites at Wembley tomorrow.

However it’s worth remembering that Saints are here on merit; they beat Arsenal and got past Liverpool over two legs after a titanic tussle in the semifinals.

It may be a first League Cup final since 1979 for the south coast club but they have, rather incredibly, yet to concede a goal in the competition en route to the final.

When the teams met in the league back in August United ran out 2-0 winners at Old Trafford with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring twice. The brilliant Swede has netted a remarkable 74 goals since the start of last season, more than any other player in Europe.

Meanwhile, United’s midfielder, Juan Mata, said victory over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League on Wednesday would boost The Reds in Sunday’s game, admitting he was delighted with the performance, claiming it will stand them in good stead for S EFL Cup final clash with Southampton.

“From the first minute I think we were very professional. We scored one goal which made it easier for us and we are very happy. You know it’s not just about qualifying but winning and going into the EFL Cup final on Sunday with more confidence.

“It was the best way to face the final – qualifying and winning and we have more confidence. We have now three days to rest.

Southampton haven’t played in the last week so they may be more fresh but I think we face the final with confidence and will try and win the second trophy of the season,” Mata told BT Sport.

Cris Smalling also reckons the adrenaline from success is driving United on and tiredness won’t come into it.

He said: “People talk about the number of games we’ve got and the final coming up. But I think when you’re winning games it doesn’t matter how many games you’ve got. We’ll be relishing Sunday and I can’t wait to get my boots back on.”

Smalling reckons United’s greater experience of Wembley gives them the advantage over the Saints and the England defender added:  “To be able to go back to Wembley so soon, and hopefully pick up our first silverware of the season, then that sets us up for the last big two or three months of the season. 

“I think quite a few of us as players have played a number of games there and maybe some of their players haven’t. So hopefully we can take that edge on Sunday and it can work in our favour.”

While United have been busy making progress to the last 16 of the Europa League and FA Cup quarterfinals, Southampton have been able to focus entirely on Wembley since a 4-0 win over Sunderland in the Premier League on February 11.

Their league form has been patchy, but Puel’s team have come alive in the League Cup, beating four top-flight teams.

No wonder keeper Fraser Forster is confident of spoiling United’s day.

“If you look at the teams we’ve beaten on the way to the final, there’s no reason why we can’t do that when we face United. We’ve got huge respect for Man United but there’s nothing to fear,” he said.

Fairytale Goes Sour for Ranieri

The anguished tone in Kasper Schmeichel’s voice told the story of the turmoil gripping Leicester as the Premier League champions slumped into a relegation crisis that triggered Claudio Ranieri’s brutal sacking on Thursday.

“We’re the reigning champions and quite frankly it’s been terrible. It’s been embarrassing,” the Leicester goalkeeper told a television reporter after a dismal 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester United on February 5.

“It’s time for every single one of us, right from the top to the bottom of this club, to stand up and be counted because if we don’t, we’re going to end up getting relegated.”

A year on from a stunning 3-1 win at Manchester City that sent them five points clear at the league summit, the loss to United left Ranieri’s men a solitary point above the relegation zone.

Leicester’s Thai owners felt compelled to issue a vote of confidence in Ranieri, but the team remained in dire trouble after an even more damaging 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Swansea days later and the beleaguered Italian was about to pay the price.

Reports emerged that Ranieri was unable to quell squad unrest over his tactics and selection decisions, with the former Chelsea boss forced to deny claims his players were unhappy he had banned chicken burgers from the training ground canteen.

A 1-0 loss at third tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on last Saturday, in which his lethargic side were out-fought by 10 men for much of the second half, was another huge blow to Ranieri’s credibility.

His team had lost their past five league matches and were the only side in the top four English divisions without a league goal in 2017.

The final straw came in Sevilla, where Leicester were beaten 2-1 in a Champions League last 16 first leg clash that the Spanish side could easily have won by a far greater margin.

Ranieri had only signed a new contract in August, but by the time Leicester arrived home, he was a dead man walking.

Only 292 days after Leicester’s title triumph climaxed with the trophy presentation amid fireworks and a fanfare from opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Ranieri discovered his time was up.

Unforgivable

It was a stunningly abrupt end to Ranieri’s reign and many had sympathy for the genial coach’s demise.

“After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad,” Leicester legend Gary Lineker said.

But money talks loudest in the Premier League and the risk of losing over £150 million in television and commercial revenue if Leicester were relegated was too much for vice chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha to stomach with only 13 games remaining. Leicester’s woes were embodied by the woeful form of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the rough-cut attacking stars whose goals and assists catapulted the Foxes to the title.

N’Golo Kante, Leicester’s other stand-out player last season, was the only departure during the close season and the club have failed to plug the hole created by his move to current leaders Chelsea.

Injury has hampered Nampalys Mendy since he signed from Nice and with Daniel Amartey an unconvincing stop-gap, Leicester splashed out £15 million to sign Wilfred Ndidi last month.

Leicester lost head of recruitment Steve Walsh to Everton after last season’s triumph and their transfer activity since has been patchy.