Category Archives: League Cup

Manchester United wins EFL Cup with Zlatan header

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Manchester United won their first major trophy of the season by beating Southampton 3-2 through a Zlatan Ibrahimovic header in a thrilling final.

The Saints were the better team throughout the match in Wembley. Manolo Gabbiadiani saw a goal ruled out by a controversial offside decision before United took an undeserved two-goal lead in the first-half.

Ibrahimovic’s spearing free-kick managed to deceived Fraser Forster to bring United ahead, while Jesse Lingard’s precise finish went through the legs of Maya Yoshida to double the advantage and seemingly set the course of the match to a straightforward United win.

However, Gabbiadiani, a £14m signing from Napoli, proved his credentials to be as the game’s outstanding performer.
Despite the almost unfair offside ruling against what could have been the first goal of the match, he kept going for the Saints and was ultimately rewarded with a quick tap-in in first-half injury time, before hitting another on the turn 3 minutes into the second-half.

The game looked destined for extra-time from there, but the Saints could only blame themselves as loopy defending afforded Ibrahimovic too much space in the 87th minute, allowing the talismanic striker to score from a header and spare United the embarrassment of losing a game they lead 2-0.

“This is a team effort,” Ibrahimovic said in the post-game interview. “This is what I came for — to win, and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get.”

“You appreciate it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me. This is what I predicted. My friend, I keep doing it. I’m enjoying it in England.”

It also justified Jose Mourinho’s intentions to sign the Swede on free, as their unique partnership won the Portuguese his first trophy as United boss and indeed making Mourinho the first manager in Manchester United’s history to win a major trophy in his first season.

EFL: Saints ousts Liverpool; United enters final over Hull

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The League Cup will have less of a rivalry factor after Liverpool was ousted from the tournament by Southampton while United, also defeated, enter the final fixture on aggregate advantage over Hull City.

Claude Puel’s Southampton will play at Wembley with two fully deserved victories over two legs against Liverpool — the latter coming from Shane Long’s late winner at Anfield.

Defending a 1-0 lead from their first leg home victory, the Saints already threatened to put the tie out of Liverpool’s reach inside the first 45 minutes. However, Dusan Tadic’s close-range shot was blocked by keeper Loris Karius and captain Steve Davis blazed another great chance wildly over.

There was little Liverpool could do as they raised the tempo in front of the Kop in the second half. Daniel Sturridge wasted their two best chances, while the hosts also had a late penalty appeal turned down when substitute Divock Origi tumbled under Jack Stephens’ challenge.

But Southampton broke clear in the closing moments and Long finished convincingly from Josh Sims’ pass to win the game by 1-0.

It was the first final Southampton reached in this competition since 1979, and they will meet Manchester United, all without conceding a goal in the process.

Manchester United, on the other hand, had a 17-match unbeaten run ended with defeat at Hull City but will still enter the final thanks to a Paul Pogba strike.
Despite a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, the Red Devils did not have the influence they had in their home after making five changes to the team.

The inevitable followed, and Tom Huddlestone put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot after four players had tangled in the area, with the key offense being Marcos Rojo’s pull on Harry Maguire’s shirt.

However, Hull hopes were all but dashed when Paul Pogba poked through the legs of Maguire and into the bottom corner from 10 yards.

Rojo headed against the bar for United and the Tigers’ Oumar Niasse also struck the woodwork before he turned in David Meyler’s cross to set up a tense finale.

United held on regardless, and former Chelsea boss Mourinho could move level with Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson on four League Cup wins at Wembley on 26 February.

League Cup semi-final preview: Liverpool vs Southampton

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Southampton holds a slim 1-0 lead heading into their semi-final replay against Liverpool, but will be without key defender Virgil van Dijk.

Van Dijk limped out of the Saints’ 3-0 win over Leicester City last weekend with an ankle problem.Jack Stephens, an England Under-21 international could feature if Van Dijk is deemed unfit.

Club manager Claude Puel says he has no fears going into the second leg at Anfield even as Southampton aims for a first cup final since 2003.

“Of course, it is special to play at Liverpool but I think it will be an exciting game,” Puel said. “It is important for all of the players, the squad, to play this game with a positive attitude. It will be dangerous and not good to just defend and try to preserve this lead.”

On the other hand, while Liverpool has been stumbling slightly in the Premier League, the return of defender Joel Matip could make a crucial difference for the Reds.

Matip was included in the provisional Cameroon squad for the Africa Cup of Nations but was one of seven players to say they did not want to play. While FIFA could impose a ban on players on such grounds, Matip had since been cleared to play.

However, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp could also see that as the Merseyside club stumbles in the Premier League race, so does their enthusiasm for the other trophies declines too.

“You cannot just give up on a season when it still holds so many possibilities,” Klopp said. “We are in two cups and we must fight for a place in the Champions League. We are still close enough to fight for nearly everything. Is anyone really saying that if we cannot be champions we cannot enjoy the season?”

“We can improve on last season and that’s what we should all be aiming for. That is what I would regard as taking the next step. And if this is a long-term project, obviously that means we need to make a few steps. As long as we keep developing, that’s fine for me.”

Liverpool (2) – (0) Southampton

League Cup: United takes advantage into semi-final replay

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Manchester United defeated Hull City by 2-0 in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final fixture, thus taking the advantage of a two-goal cushion going into their replay.

The victory did not come easy for the Red Devils – despite being almost at full-strength, the team struggled to break down Hull’s tight defense, and could only register two shots on target in the first-half.

Visiting Hull registered attempts on target, too – with Robert Snodgrass giving United something to worry about in set pieces.

But as a more intense United team returned to pitch at the second half, they got an easy breakthrough just before the hour with Juan Mata tapping in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s knockdown.

Marouane Fellaini, subbed in for Mata with 10 minutes left to play, sealed the game with United’s second as the Belgian headed in Matteo Darmian’s cross to put United in command heading into the second leg on 26 January.

For Hull City, who are at the bottom of the Premier League table and are struggling to cope with a growing injury list, were given odds of 20-1 to win. It got worse as one of their midfielders, Markus Henriksen, left the pitch injured just inside 20 minutes.

But with Marco Silva taking charge of the Tigers last week, the team have looked much improved overall. They managed to defeat Swansea in the FA Cup at the weekend and more than held their own for long periods of the game against the Red Devils despite having to field a makeshift defence.

However, Fellaini’s goal means that Hull probably is a goal deficit too far to turnaround in the second leg – although fans could hold out hope that their players could deliver a survival in their relegation battle this season.