What a Super Sunday it was for the football fans! Zlatan Ibrahimovic marched on his way to glory as he sealed the first major silverware of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United reign. Southampton’s hearts pumped less blood as the Swedish superstar’s late goal left a blazing trail with a dramatic 3-2 victory in the adrenalin pumping Sunday’s League Cup final. Though Ibrahimovic was one of Mourinho’s marquee signings in the close-season, he fully repaid his manager’s trust with a super charged dominant and dashing display on the day his team needed him the most at Wembley.
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring for the Manchester United with a blistering free-kick before Jesse Lingard doubled the United’s lead. Not to be left behind, Manolo Gabbiadini made a sensational comeback of sorts with a thrilling fightback for Southampton. He scored just before half-time and again early in the second half.
But the energetic horse power of Manchester United Ibrahimovic had the last laugh as his 87th minute header — his 26th goal of the campaign — ensured that Manager Mourinho joined United legend Alex Ferguson and Nottingham Forest great Brian Clough as the only managers to win the League Cup four times. Mourinho is the first United manager to win a top prize in his debut season at Old Trafford. This is a distinguished feat which not even Ferguson or Matt Busby achieved. It was also the 54-year-old manager’s 19th major trophy of his fabulous football career. The serial winner will hope the splendid victory acts as a catalyst for himself and his team to claim bigger trophies in the near future, just as it did when the League Cup was the first silverware of his maiden spell with Chelsea.
“Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding,” claimed an estatic Mourinho. “Our opponents were better than us for long periods of the game and didn’t deserve to lose over 90 minutes. Ibrahimovic made the difference. He gave us a cup.”
The absence of injured playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and with Wayne Rooney again resting on the bench, a stage was set by destiny for Ibrahimovic to cement his status as United’s Man Friday. He grabbed the opportunity and left an indelible mark of his authority on his first showpiece football event in England.
Claiming the ball right from the word go, Ibrahimovic’s shrewd pass set up France midfielder Paul Pogba for a fierce long-range effort that stung the palms of the goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Now it was the turn of Southampton to respond with a dangerous raid that should have brought the opening goal in the 11th minute when Cedric Soares crossed low into the six yard box. But Gabbiadini side-footed past David de Gea., only to see his celebrations curtailed by a doubtful offside decision. With that lucky escape, United swept forward and in the 19th minute Oriol Romeu made a costly error when he tried to halt another attack with a clumsy lunge on Ander Herrera. Romeu was booked but there was more punishment was to come from the free-kick as Ibrahimovic stepped up to send the ball smashing over the Southampton wall.
The United still looked dangerously casual despite their lead. and De Gea was forced to save from James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic. But Southampton were even more laid back in their approach at the back. It was but natural that Mourinho’s men mauled again in the 38th minute. Marcos Rojo was given room to pick out Lingard inside the penalty area. Luck was knocking on the door. The United forward couldn’t believe this luck as the statuesque Saints’ defence allowed him to guide a low finish past Forster. On the stroke of half-time Southampton were back in the game as United were caught unawares by Ward-Prowse’s cross and Gabbiadini applied the finishing touch with a brilliant close-range effort. Pogba strangely offered little protection to United’s defence. Southampton not only exposed United’s defensive flaws again but drew level in the 48th minute.
Though the display from United was not up to their usual high standards, it was Ibrahimovic who delivered the knockout blow and punctured any hopes of revival for his opponents with extra-time looming. He put his best foot forward, racing into the six-yard box to tackle Herrera’s cross with a bullet header that added more glitter to both the Manchester United and Mourinho’s trophy achievements.