Manchester United vs Southampton Preview: Immortality beckons for the Saints at Wembley

Manchester United vs Southampton Preview: Immortality beckons for the Saints at Wembley

The Saints are one game away from ending a 41-year drought for a major trophy, with the Red Devils standing between them and making history at the home of football.

kit-shepard
Kit Shepard

It's been yet another topsy-turvy season on the South Coast, with unbelievable highs, cataclysmic failures, and unlikely departures ensuring it has been a pretty exhausting campaign for Southampton fans, and it's only February.

However, there doesn't look like being a game of greater magnitude for Claude Puel's men than the EFL Cup final this Sunday at Wembley. After an epic effort to reach the ultimate hurdle, the Saints will do battle with Manchester United in a classic David versus Goliath contest, to win the inaugural trophy on offer this season and secure their first piece of major silverware in over four decades.

The biggest game

As intimated to before, there haven't been many dull moments for Southampton supporters over the past few years. Since the club was saved from administration in 2009, they have been promoted twice, played in Europe, and even won at Wembley already. 

Yet despite this, Sunday's game will surely go down as Southampton's biggest of the modern era. With all due respect to the Johnstone's Paint Trophy (which they won in 2010), the Saints' second trip to the arch provides an opportunity to achieve something which generations of players in the red and white stripes could not do; win a major trophy.

For 41 years, the FA Cup final victory in 1976, ironically over United as well, has been unrivalled as the greatest day in little Southampton's history, and is to date the club's only significant piece of silverware. However on Sunday, a new crop of players could achieve legendary status for eternity around St Mary's. The only thing standing in their way is another football team called Manchester United.

Just as vital for United

Southampton's opponents have themselves had an eventful season to say the least. They were tipped as favourites to win it all at the beginning of the season, with new signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic giving the Red Devils some of the finest talent in the world on the pitch, while the acquisition of Jose Mourinho provided them with a master tactician of it.

Unfortunately for United, things haven't quite plan. Admittedly, results of late have been near-perfect and they will travel down to London brimming with confidence, but a slow start to the campaign has left them fighting for a Champions League place rather than their first title since 2013.

As a result, any kind of silverware would turn an average season at Old Trafford into a decent one. While they are still competing in four competitions, Sunday's game represents manager Mourinho's best chance of marking the opening chapter of his time at United with a trophy.

With both sides hell-bent on winning, the EFL Cup final 2017 has all the ingredients of a classic.

Road to Wembley

Despite being neglected by many teams, both United and Southampton have been rewarded for their impressive performances in the EFL Cup with a chance to win at arguably the most famous stadium in world football. Here's how each side got there.

Manchester United: 

Third RoundA routine 3-1 victory away to League 1 side Northampton Town eased the pressure on Mourinho after three consecutive defeats.

Fourth RoundJuan Mata's goal was enough to see off rivals Manchester City in a spirited affair at Old Trafford.

Quarter-finalUnited eased into the semis, defeating West Ham 4-1 at home.

Semi-final: In the two leg tussle with Hull City, United had just enough to win 3-2 on aggregate, comfortably winning at home before being given a scare in the return leg.

Southampton: 

Third RoundGoals from Charlie Austin and youngster Jake Hesketh gave the Saints a 2-0 win at home to Crystal Palace.

Fourth Round: A Sofiane Boufal special saw Southampton past Sunderland at St Mary's.

Quarter-final: A fine team performance shocked Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium, with Puel's side winning 2-0.

Semi-final: Drawn against Liverpool, Southampton were dominant in the first leg, winning 1-0, before producing a perfect defensive display at Anfield to book their place in the final.

Team news

United will be without attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after the Armenian picked up a knock on Thursday night against Saint-Etienne in the Europa League. Midfielder Michael Carrick and defender Phil Jones are also doubts.

Southampton are missing captain and talisman centre-back Virgil Van Dijk, who is still side-lined with an ankle injury. As a result, new signing Martin Caceres could be in line to make a daunting debut. Attacker Sofiane Boufal is in contention to play after spending the last few weeks on the treatment table. 

Match stats

Aside from the semi-final second leg defeat to Hull, United are unbeaten since the start of November. Southampton have played four Premier League teams to reach the final, and are yet to concede a goal. Manchester United have won the league cup four times, Southampton none.

There's history between them

The only encounter at Wembley, old or new, between the two sides was the 1976 FA Cup Final, which the Saints won 1-0. The two sides last met in cup competition in 2011, with United coming from behind to win 2-1 at St Mary's in the FA Cup fourth round. United won 2-0 when the sides met at Old Trafford earlier in the season.

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