LONDON: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, most remarkable free-transfer signing in recent times, struck twice as Manchester United snatched a barely-deserved League Cup Final victory by 3-2 over Southampton at Wembley.
United, missing injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan, were fortunate that Saints’ Manolo Gabbiadini had a goal disallowed controversially for offside against a team-mate after 10 minutes.
Saints had not played for two weeks and had taken a warm weather break in Spain. But the rest may have worked against them as United hit back twice and for real.
First Ibrahimovic beat Paul Pogba to grab the ball after a foul and curled a superb free kick around the wall from 25m for his 25th goal of the season and his 14th in nine games against Puel teams.
United then extended the prospect of a fifth League Cup and 37th major domestic trophy after 38 minutes when Wembley-winning specialist Jesse Lingard struck to follow up his goals in last season’s FA Cup Final and then the season-opening Community Shield.
Southampton’s only previous major trophy had been the FA Cup which they won as a second division team against United in 1976. So they knew all about being dangerous outsiders and proved the point when Gabbiadini pulled one back just before half-time.
The Italian, a £15m January deadline signing from Napoli, struck again shortly after half-time and, for much of the second half, Southampton looked the more likely winners.
In the 86th minute, however, Ibrahmovic headed off the United goal-line from Jack Stephens then strode down to the other end to strike the winning goal.
For United manager Jose Mourinho it was a fourth League Cup success, matching the achievement of Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.
In the Premier League Harry Kane scored his third hat-trick in nine games as Tottenham reacted to their Europa League exit by thrashing Stoke 4-0.
England’s centre-forward struck three times in the first 36 minutes before laying on No4 for Dele Alli. It was a perfect response after Spurs were knocked out of the Europa League by Gent on Thursday. Victory kept Spurs in second place, albit 10 points behind runaway leaders Chelsea.