Manchester United vs Southampton EFL Final | Virgin Media
Manchester United vs. Southampton: EFL Final

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The season’s first trophy in English football is up for grabs this Sunday as Manchester United and Southampton meet at Wembley for the right to lift the EFL Cup.

Both sides came in at the third round due to their European commitments and have had to overcome tricky opposition in order to reach the final.

However, the Saints’ route is marginally more impressive as they’re yet to concede a goal in the competition and that includes victories at both the Emirates Stadium as well as Anfield.

Meanwhile, the Red Devils have beaten Northampton Town, local rivals Manchester City, West Ham United and Hull City along the way and Jose Mourinho will be looking for his fourth League Cup winners’ medal.

But where will the game be won or lost?

Squawka have taken a look at three key battles that will likely go a long way into deciding which team is celebrating come the final whistle.

Zlatan Ibrahimović vs. Jack Stephens

With Virgil van Dijk missing through injury, Stephens is expected to partner Maya Yoshida at the heart of the Saints defence and will be instructed to keep a close eye on the in-form Manchester United striker.

The 23-year-old stood up to the task well in the second leg of their semi-final tie against Liverpool last month and has started the last four Premier League games in succession with Southampton keeping two clean sheets in that spell.

But how he deals with Ibrahimović will certainly have an impact on the game. The veteran striker, who scored a brace on his home debut against the Saints, has impressed all season and leads United’s scoring charts with 24 goals across all competitions.

Paul Pogba vs. Oriol Romeu

This is the type of game in which Pogba has to stamp his authority on and win the trophy for United to further justify his huge £89 million price tag. The Frenchman has impressed following his switch from Juventus last summer, completing more passes (1,494) and creating more chances (46) in the Premier League than any United player in the squad.

He will be looking to break from his deep-lying midfield position in order to support Ibrahimović and that would then put him in direct competition with Romeu, who sits in front of the Saints’ back four.

The Spaniard is enjoying a good season for Claude Puel’s side and was by far and away their best player over two legs against Liverpool. He too has completed more passes (1,066) in the Premier League than any player in the Saints squad and has also recorded 51 interceptions  - second only to Van Dijk.

Manolo Gabbiadini vs. Eric Bailly

Southampton’s season has been revived following the signing of the Italian striker in last month’s transfer window as he’s filled the void left by the injured Charlie Austin in the centre-forward role.

Yes, Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez can lead the line when asked, but neither are as clinical in front of goal as Gabbiadini. This has been evidenced by three goals in his first two games at a 37% shot conversion rate.

Tasked with keeping tabs on the former Napoli striker is likely to be Bailly, who has settled into life at Old Trafford with relative ease. No other United defender has completed more tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season (1.86) than the Ivorian international and that will be key on Sunday.

Written by Tashan Deniran-Alleyne at Squawka.com