Silverware touched Manchester United once again on Sunday Night, as a stunning and seesawing contest between the Reds and Southampton resulted in a 3-2 win for the Red Devils at Wembley. They were led by the brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who led from the front in style and made crucial clearances at the other end.
His stunning brace was an apt display for the Swede, who yet again got to silence his critics with his typical panache.
Southampton were absolutely brilliant on Sunday, and will considers themselves greatly misfortunate to not have won at Wembley. Emanuele Gabbiadini was superb and sometimes unplayable for the underdogs, and was grossly unlucky to have a clearly onside goal ruled out. As per usual, a controversial decision shaped a big game of English football. It’s like clockwork really.
The relief was plain to see on Jose Mourinho’s face post-match, as despite his happiness there was obvious frustration worn on his face with what was a mostly disappointing display from his side, not to mention the fact they had blown a two goal lead. Good teams find a way to win despite these factors though, and his men did so.
(Almost) Defensive Disaster
Antonio Valencia and David De Gea aside, it was a terrible day out for Manchester United’s defenders. Eric Bailly has struggled to readjust in most of his games since returning from the African Cup of Nations, whilst Marcos Rojo looked typically uncomfortable on the left – the reality is he is a centre back in English football, no matter where he plays for Argentina that’s where he belongs for United.
Rojo should have partnered Bailly in the middle considering both players fine seasons there, but perhaps their fondness for brutal challenges makes Mourinho reluctant to pair them together. The common theme in United’s defensive struggles; Chris Smalling. He is constantly ball watching, and doesn’t have the footballing intelligence to play in a team that attacks and opens itself up defensively.
A couple of good performances aside this season, he’s been farcical. His clock should be ticking at the club.
Herrera Rises, Pogba and Mata Struggle
Ander Herrera put in a Captain-worthy display in midfield, and was the best player on the pitch for United not named Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Apart from almost getting himself sent off of course, which probably denied him a match rating of 10.
He was defensively excellent early in the game, and drove United forward in the second half when they searched for a winner. His cross for United’s winner was utterly delightful, and put the goal on a plate for his teammate Ibrahimovic. Meanwhile his midfield partners Paul Pogba and Juan Mata struggled.
Michael Carrick did not start, and it is clear Mourinho is still searching to finely tune a balance between defence, midfield and attack. 3 midfielders can take away from the attack, and 4 attackers takes away from midfield. They may be a new signing away from finding that answer.
Nevertheless it was a poor day for Pogba, who failed to shine. Mata was not the man of recent weeks, and was withdrawn for Carrick at half time.
Mourinho Gets His First Trophy
Jose Mourinho’s wait for his first trophy at Manchester United not named the Community Shield did not take long, as it was won in February with a glorious EFL Cup Final victory. Mourinho has made every competition a priority, as he has made it clear that every game United plays should be treated with respect.
Mourinho has transformed United and continues to do so, and has transformed himself in the process. He made tactical changes when Southampton scored, and helped them fight off a wave of Saints attacks as a result.
It hasn’t happened overnight, and won’t as a result of this victory. They are getting there though as the good days come back to Old Trafford.
ZLATAN, ZLATAN, ZLATAN
Sunday at Wembley was all about Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s had doubters, haters and detractors since before he officially arrived in Manchester and every time he has responded. At 35 years old he continues to score at a world class level, dragging United back from the brink to win them their first real silverware of the season.
A free kick and a header, sandwiched in between a Jesse Lingard Wembley special is what it took to win the game for Manchester United, and here they are in case you somehow missed it:
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) February 27, 2017
“Simply a superstar” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Enjoy it Manchester United fans. A trophy is a trophy and media narrative and rival fans will have their say, but trophies don’t lie. The club is now the most successful club in English history, whether it’s Premier League titles or total trophies. What a victory and what a club.
There is much work to do though, with three more competitions still to be decided. What will the rest of the season hold for Mourinho’s men?