The first piece of silverware in the English football season will be awarded at Wembley Stadium on Sunday in the League Cup final, with Manchester United, looking to make it five wins in this tournament, taking on Southampton, who are seeking to win only the second major title in the club’s history.
And while the League Cup has lost some of its significance down the years, it’s an accolade both managers will be desperate to get their hands on under the iconic arch.
United boss Jose Mourinho has fared brilliantly in this competition during his time in England. Previously he’s won the trophy on a trio of occasions with Chelsea, often as a precursor to his side going on to achieve further successes. He’ll hope victory here can instil a strong winning mentality into his burgeoning group.
As for Southampton, days like this are rare. The last major final they made it to was the 2003 FA Cup and the club’s supporters have had to wait 41 years for a pot to put in the cabinet. Having performed so well to make it to this stage of the competition, Claude Puel and his players will be confident of completing the job.
Indeed, while Saints are the underdogs for this one, they’re not to be written off. As of yet they’ve not conceded a goal in the tournament, including over two legs against Liverpool in a memorable semi-final performance.
That’s something United must be wary of. But in Mourinho, they have a manager as adept at anyone in the business at masterminding his way through these big games. That’s surely got to count for a lot on Sunday.
Date: Sunday, February 26, 2017
Time: 11:30 a.m. (ET)
US TV: Live on beIN SPORTS
US streaming: Live on fuboTV (free 7-day trial)
What’s made Saints’ run to the final stage of this competition all the more impressive is that Puel has had to draft in different personnel, having lost some key men.
Star defender Virgil van Dijk and top scorer Charlie Austin have both been injured, while club captain Jose Fonte was sold to West Ham United in the January transfer window. Even so, Southampton have been cohesive, composed and clinical in all their League Cup matches to this point.
Crucially, they have momentum heading into the final too. After a poor start to 2017 in the Premier League, they found some verve again at Sunderland last time out, securing an emphatic 4-0 on the day. It’s a win that was inspired by January acquisition Manolo Gabbiadini, who has scored three goals in his two appearances for the club so far.