League Cup can once again give Jose Mourinho a platform for success
The Portuguese’s first trophy as Chelsea manager was the 2005 title and he is hoping for more glory with Manchester United
The first trophy lifted by Jose Mourinho in English football was the League Cup with Chelsea in 2005 and the same competition offers him his first chance of major silverware with Manchester United – if we don’t count the pre-season Community Shield - in tomorrow’s final against Southampton.
The EFL Cup – to give it its branded title – is the third of English football’s major competitions, behind the Premier League and the FA Cup, but there is no doubt Mourinho targeted victory in his first season with Chelsea as a means of proving himself quickly to the club and the fans and of convincing the players they could be winners.
At that stage, remember, key players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard had not won major honours. Lifting the League Cup gave them the confidence to know they could be winners and most importantly to finish the job in the Premier League, which in the week before that success they led by a similar margin as the current Chelsea side do now.
Mourinho may not have put his United side in title contention in the Premier League, but he has followed a similar path in the League Cup in his first season in charge at Old Trafford. He knows that a quick first trophy will convince everyone his methods are working, whereas his predecessor Louis van Gaal did not win the FA Cup until the end of his second season and by then confidence in him had drained away.
United certainly have the form to beat Southampton, having lost only one of their last 25 matches in all competitions. That defeat was 2-1 away against Hull in the second leg of their semi-final tie in the League Cup, when they were defending a 2-0 lead from the home leg.
During that long run United have been almost the equal of Chelsea in the Premier League and they have made impressive progress in several competitions, especially considering they have had a much heavier workload than the current leaders. In the past week Mourinho’s side have reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League, setting up more opportunities of silverware.
Although United’s draw rate remains quite high and Mourinho has a safety-first tendency, the win odds for tomorrow’s match are attractive. A good away record is a positive indicator for matches played on neutral territory and United have won eight of their last 11 away games in all competitions.
Southampton are sure to play a tight game and aim to play on the counter-attack, which is how they managed to overcome Liverpool in the semi-finals. They also knocked out Arsenal in the quarter-finals and are not to be underestimated, but their game plan based on clean sheets is quite limited.
Since the cup win over Arsenal at the end of November, Claude Puel’s team have scored more than once against only three Premier League teams and all of them (Bournemouth, Leicester and Sunderland) are struggling for form.
That leaves Southampton reliant on a shutout, which looks difficult to achieve against United.
Manchester City and Arsenal are the two teams sitting out the weekend in the Premier League because of the EFL Cup final, which means there may well be some shuffling of the chasing pack behind Chelsea, although it is difficult to envisage the leaders dropping points at home even against rejuvenated Swansea.
Tottenham are rated strong favourites at home to Stoke but it might pay to be wary of them after their Europa League exit on Thursday night. Stoke can be a dangerous away team, although they have yet to beat a top-half side this season.
Liverpool may have to be on their guard on Monday night away to Leicester, whose reaction to the sacking of Claudio Ranieri is hard to gauge. Even on this season’s overall home form, Leicester will be no pushover as they have lost only four out of 12 at the King Power Stadium, and perhaps the players will get a lift from Ranieri’s departure.
The two best bets on a tricky Premier League programme are West Brom and Hull, both at home.
West Brom have become one of the best-value home teams this season with seven wins out of eight against sides below them in the table. They have another match in that category tonight against Bournemouth, who have lost eight out of 12 on the road.
Hull are not so solid at home but their recent improvement under Marco Silva, coupled with Burnley’s dismal away form, gives them a reasonable chance.