I Think I'm Sitting Roughly Where the 'B' is.
Here we go then.
EFL cup final at Wembley against Manchester United. To my mind, we are serious underdogs in this game and therefore have nothing to lose. Let's go for it. It's the first leg of a United Treble though so we'd better not spoil it for everyone as that would never do.
After the fixture carnage throughout the season and especially at Christmas, we have been in the strange position of having two weeks off before the final which is a fact not lost on our moaning bastard of an opposing manager, José Mourinho. Over the past few weeks he has taken every opportunity in every interview he has had to point out the fact that we have had two weeks off whilst Manchester United have had three games. Two are against a mid-table French side and one against a team from the bottom of the championship. He made no mention of our three games in five days over Christmas but then you wouldn't really expect him to would you? I feel really sorry for you Jose because you feel the need to get your excuses in early despite the fact that Manchester United have more money than the rest of the clubs on the planet put together. They've actually spent quite a lot of it to this season with the admittedly ludicrously overpriced Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrik Mkhitaryan joining for a combined outlay of about £150 million plus about a million a week in wages. Yet still, the moaning twat can only complain that it's a not a level playing field.
Things are so weighted in our favour that our captain decided to make it more even by flouncing off to another club for more money. That doesn't happen to Manchester United that often does it? Then, our best player gets injured and we have absolutely no choice but to promote someone from the Academy. In the build up to this particular game we are weighing up whether to play the academy lad or to play a newly signed player who hasn't played for over a year. If United lost one of their first choice centre halves then they could bring in the England International Chris Smalling or a choice of Dutch international Daley Blind or £30 million worth of Eric Bailly. It's really tough being Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. They also don't have to deal with the continual exodus of players who see the bright lights and follow them transfixed into the promised land. Only it’s not often the way it turns out.
Two of the players they've taken off of Saints in the last couple of seasons are Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw. Morgan has moved on after being fourth choice defensive midfielder for a season and a half and Luke is currently their fourth choice left back, which Mourinho pointed out in an interview a couple of days ago. Like I said, it's really tough being Manchester United with all the advantages the other teams of got. Shut up you wanker.
Predictably, it has been quite quiet in the Saints camp apart from us finally completing the signing of Martin Caceres on a free transfer. Personally, if he proves his fitness in training and totally bosses it in an 11 aside friendly then I'd be tempted to start him but only because Maya and Jack have looked dodgy as fuck whenever confronted with a big physical centre forward. I don't give any thought about the notion that Jack Stephens deserves to play because he's played the last few. This is top level sport we are talking about and whilst Stephens played well against bottom of the table Sunderland last week, he was abysmal against Arsenal, dodgy against Llorente and Swansea and he shat his pants every time Andy Carroll came near him against West Ham. If you want sentimentality to play a part in selection and you want to pick players who have got us here then Gabbiadini doesn’t play and either Shane Long or J-Rod gets the nod and no one in their right mind would do that. Having said all that, it would be a hell of a risk to play Caceres and I can't see Claude taking that risk so I am fully anticipating Maya and Jack to start.
The other unknown is of course what formation we will play. We simply have to play 4-2-3-1 as in the wide open spaces of Wembley, we will get absolutely picked apart if we play any variation of the diamond formation and we will need to be protecting the two centre backs with two midfielders in front of them. Assuming Claude does go with that formation then the rest of the team more or less picks itself. Fraser in goal, Cedric and Ryan Bertrand will be the full backs, Davo and Romeu will be the defensive midfielders. The attacking three in midfield will be Redmond Tadic and JWP with Manolo Gabbiadini up front.
The bench will contain a goalkeeper, probably Mouez Hassen, Caceres, McQueen, Hojbjerg, Clasie, Boufal, Long, J-Rod. Actually, that's eight and out of these eight, I'd leave Clasie out but maybe Boufal’s injury will mean there’s no decision to make.
United I assume will pick De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Rojo, Bailly, Carrick, Pogba, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimović, Martial. Subs bench including any of Romero Schweinsteiger Smalling, Fellaini, Darmian, Shaw. Young, Rooney, Lingard, Mata, Rashford. An embarrassment of riches - Still, level playing field and all that.
Having said all this about the level playing field argument and the fact that they are favourites, I still believe we have a real chance on this game and I don't believe they are that good. If we let them play and they play well then they are going to win but like with our two relatively recent wins at Old Trafford, we have to make life uncomfortable for them. Their first obvious weakness is the defence with Blind being slow and Rojo & Bailly being prone to concentration lapses. I see the movement of Gabbiadini being a problem for them and at the pace of Shane Long being a problem for them later in the game. Assuming Carrick plays then we of course need to pressure him the entire time and that will probably be a job for Tadic. Playing on the break is going to give us our best opportunities as none out of Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Martial or Mata if he plays, fancy running towards their own goal too much. We can do this.
Cup finals have a habit of throwing up on likely heroes so for us I guess that leaves you looking at Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu or JWP. Shane Long has also got to be a good bet for first goalscorer even though he is likely to start on the bench and let's hope the game pans out like Liverpool away in the semi-final.
In terms of us being the underdogs, it's not quite 1976 as we are a much better team today than the Boys of 1976 were in the league at least. It's not quite 2003 either as we were playing against the Invincibles from Arsenal. It is however quite similar to our last league cup final in 1979 when we were playing Nottingham Forest who at the time were one of the best teams in the country whilst we were a mid-table side. I remember quite a lot about that game at the old Wembley even though I was only 10 at the time and we had a right go, deservedly been 1-0 up at half time before the roof fell in in the second half and we letting three goals in pretty rapid succession. Our rally at the end and Nick Holmes’ thunderous consolation goal probably made it look a little bit closer than it was.
Also from 1979, I remember the walk up Wembley way towards the twin towers and of the general awesomeness of the old stadium both from the outside and when you got inside. The new ground just doesn't have that feeling as you walk up to it but it is incredibly impressive once you get with in view of the pitch. One thing I recommend from watching England a few times is don't bother to go for a pie or a pint or some fucking Gastro bollocks at half time because by the time you got down there got served and got back you would've missed a good 10 minutes of the second-half. My advice is to just proceed straight to toilet, go for a piss and get back to your seat as soon as possible.
Up until the JPT final in 2009 I had never actually seen Saints win at Wembley. A Charity Shield defeat to Liverpool in 1976, League Cup defeat to Forest in 1979 and during Wembley’s rebuilding we had the 2003 defeat at the Millennium Stadium to Arsenal. I will enjoy the day no matter what happens but I know that I and everyone reading this will enjoy it a fucks sight more if we win. Bring it home lads and let Jose bleat about fixture congestion all the way back to Manchester. Give us an even playing field - and by that I mean a decent refereeing performance - and we can do this.
To paraphrase an ex-Saint – I would love it if we beat them, love it!
1-0 to Saints, Shane Long 85 Minutes.