Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ultimately the Manchester United hero on another dramatic day at Wembley as Jose Mourinho claimed his first trophy as Reds manager with a thrilling 3-2 EFL Cup final victory over Southampton.
The Swede struck two goals, including the vital winner three minutes from time, to seal a fifth League Cup triumph for United. But it was far from plain sailing for the Reds who were pegged back by the impressive Saints, having gone two goals ahead in the first half thanks to Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard.
Manolo Gabbiadini netted twice for the Saints, but United, in typical fashion, found a way to emerge victorious and win the silverware through Ibrahimovic’s late header.
While Southampton named an unchanged side from their last match two weeks ago, Mourinho made six alterations to the team that won at Saint-Etienne in midweek. In came David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, Lingard and Anthony Martial for Sergio Romero, Ashley Young, Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and the injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
It was the Reds who had the first sight of goal when Paul Pogba’s well-struck shot was punched away by Fraser Forster, but it was the Saints who enjoyed the best of the opportunities in the opening period and they would have been ahead but for an offside flag on 11 minutes.
Gabbiadini had the ball in the net after a cross from Cedric from the right, but the flag was up against Ryan Bertrand who was running in behind Gabbiadini and the effort was chalked off.
The Saints continued to look dangerous in attack but an incident at the other end, on 19 minutes, brought the first goal of the game. Oriol Romeu’s foul on Herrera allowed Ibrahimovic to take aim from 25 yards with a sublime free-kick over the wall and past the outstretched arm of Forster.
The goal did little to deter Saints who continued to attack and United had De Gea to thank after two excellent stops from James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic.
Chances were less frequent for the Reds but when they came, Mourinho’s men made them count and it was Lingard who utilised some space in the box to double United’s advantage on 38 minutes. After receiving a pass from Rojo, the man who netted in the 2016 FA Cup final and 2017 Community Shield opened up his body and rolled a measured effort into the far corner.
That strike seemed to have put the Reds in complete control, but Gabbiadini gave Claude Puel’s men a lifeline in first-half injury-time. The Saints raided down United’s left flank again and Ward-Prowse’s cross was flicked past De Gea by the Italian.
Possession: United 46% Southampton 54%
Shots: United 3 Southampton 5
Shots on target: United 3 Southampton 3
Corners: United 0 Southampton 4
Things got even better for Southampton three minutes after the restart when their Italian striker found the net once more. After De Gea had made another fine stop from Nathan Redmond, the Reds failed to clear a corner and a header back into the box by their captain Steve Davis was pounced on by the Southampton striker who turned on the half-volley and fired home.
The momentum was now with the Saints but Forster almost presented United with a chance to retake the lead when his loose ball fell to Martial who put Zlatan through. Fortunately for the goalkeeper, he was able to race from his line and block at the forward’s feet.
Minutes later Southampton almost went in front as Romeu rose to meet Ward-Prowse’s corner and saw his header come back off the post.
United’s best chance since half-time arrived when a cross into the box dropped to Lingard, but the Reds’ matchwinner last May couldn’t repeat his heroics as his shot flew over the bar.
Lingard was replaced by Marcus Rashford seconds later and the substitute’s low drive was saved by Forster, before Southampton went up the other end. Had it not been for some last-ditch defending and hold-your-breath moments as the ball skipped across the face of goal, the Saints could have won it.
Instead it was left to Ibrahimovic to send United fans into dreamland as the Reds broke forward on 87 minutes with Herrera eventually supplying an inch-perfect cross for the Swede to head home and seal a fifth League Cup triumph for United amid jubilant scenes once again at Wembley.
Possession: United 48% Southampton 52%
Shots: United 10 Southampton 12
Shots on target: United 6 Southampton 5
Corners: United 3 Southampton 12
United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling (c), Rojo; Herrera, Pogba; Lingard (Rashford 77), Mata (Carrick 46), Martial (Fellaini 90); Ibrahimovic. Subs not used: Romero, Blind, Young, Rooney.
Booked: Herrera, Lingard.
Southampton: Forster, Cedric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis (c) (Rodriguez 90), Ward-Prowse, Tadic (Boufal 78), Redmond, Gabbiadini (Long 83). Subs not used: Hassen, Caceres, McQueen, Hojbjerg.
Booked: Romeu, Stephens, Redmond.