Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped Manchester United claim the first major silverware of the season as they edged out Southampton 3-2 to win the EFL Cup at Wembley.
It was nearly a dream start for Southampton, who had the opening goal wrongly ruled out for offside. United then took the mantle and goals from Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard seemingly put them in control of the tie.
Two goals, either side of half-time from Manolo Gabbiadini drew the Saints level before Ibrahimovic headed home from close range to break Southampton hearts.
Jose Mourinho made six changes to the team that faced Saint Ettiene on Wednesday, with David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, Lingard and Anthony Martial all coming into the side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan missed out with a hamstring injury.
Southampton manager Claude Puel named an unchanged starting line-up for the first time this season. Martin Caceres featured on the bench, the first time he has been included in the Southampton squad. The Saints were still without Virgil van Dijk who remained side-lined with an ankle injury.
Mourinho’s men engineered the game’s first shot on target, as Paul Pogba sent a long-range drive straight at Fraser Forster, who parried the ball away.
It was Southampton who thought they had taken the lead though, when Cedric burst into the United box and found Manolo Gabbiadini, who poked the ball home, just for the goal to be wrongly ruled out by the linesman for offside. Gabbiadini was being played onside by the foot of Chris Smalling and it was full-back Ryan Bertrand who was in an offside position but did not appear to be interfering with play.
The injustice was compounded when Manchester United took the lead in an encounter they were yet to fully grow in to. Oriol Romeu’s foul on Herrera gave United a free kick 25 yards from goal and who else but Ibrahamovic stepped up, wrapped his right foot round the ball and sent it curling over the wall and past the diving figure of Forster. The Southampton keeper will feel he should have done better though, as the ball beat him around a yard inside his right post.
The Saints did not let their heads drop, as first James Ward-Prowse, and then Dusan Tadic, forced saves out of De Gea.
But Manchester United’s superior finishing proved the difference between the two sides and they doubled their lead before the break. A flowing, passing move from United, culminated in Rojo laying the ball to Lingard, who turned and delicately placed the ball past Forster, for his third goal in three appearances at Wembley.
Gabbiadini wasn’t to be denied his goal though and the Italian kept Southampton in the tie with a goal in first-half stoppage time. Nathan Redmond found Ward-Prowse out wide and his low, near post cross was prodded home by Gabbiadini, to give the Saints a goal their first-half performance richly deserved.
The second-half roared into life for the Saints, as Redmond thundered a volley at the United goal, which De Gea just managed to punch out for a corner. It was a warning shot and from the resulting spell of corners Gabbiadini had his side level. A looping headed clearance from Pogba was played back into the box by Steven Davies which Pogba this time couldn’t clear, allowing Gabbiadini to pounce, on the turn, and clinically volley the ball past De Gea.
Southampton almost took the lead from yet another corner, as United didn’t heed their previous warning. Romeu rose above Pogba and sent his header goalwards, beating De Gea but crashing back off the post.
In truth, there was not much to separate the two sides, Southampton looked at threat with Ward-Prowse over the ball and United too enjoyed spells of attacking pressure. Ibrahimovic slammed a free kick into the wall, Lingard sent a volley over the bar from close range and his replacement, Marcus Rashford, forced Forster to save with his legs.
But there was only ever one man that could settle this tie for United and that man Zlatan struck again. Martial played the ball to Herrera, was afforded too much space in the Southampton box and picked out Ibrahimovic, who was left unmarked, six yards out, to meet the cross with a trademark header and reclaim the lead for his side.
Teams: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Rojo, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard (Rashford, 76), Mata (Carrick, 45), Martial (Fellaini, 89), Ibrahimovic
Unused Subs: Romero, Blind, Young, Rooney
Teams: Forster, Cedric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis (Rodriguez, 89), Ward-Prowse, Tadic (Boufal, 76), Redmond, Gabbiadini (Long, 82)
Unused Subs: Hassen, Caceres, Højbjerg, McQueen
Referee: Andre Marriner