The Big Match

Football: Form the ultimate factor for Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho

If Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho opts for a 4-3-3 formation for today's League Cup final against Southampton, his likely combination of forwards will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) along with Anthony Martial and Juan Mata, thus diminishing t
If Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho opts for a 4-3-3 formation for today's League Cup final against Southampton, his likely combination of forwards will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) along with Anthony Martial and Juan Mata, thus diminishing the prospect of Wayne Rooney lining up in attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

Absence of sentiment in selection process a pointer to Rooney's League Cup final chances

LONDON • He may have an affinity with the League Cup but, when it comes to his team selection for Wembley, Jose Mourinho will not allow his emotions to hold sway.

"It's the best 11 players," the Manchester United manager said when asked how much sentiment would come into his thinking when picking his team for today's League Cup final against Southampton. "We win all together, it doesn't matter if you don't play much. I go for the best possible team."

That may spell bad news for Wayne Rooney, who is back in full training after a three-week absence with a hamstring injury.

If the striker doubts whether Mourinho would have the gumption to deprive him of a chance to lead United out at Wembley, he should cast his gaze in the direction of Luke Shaw.

The £30 million (S$52.5 million) left-back is expected to miss out on an emotional reunion with his old club, with either Daley Blind or Marcos Rojo, respectively a midfielder and centre-half by trade, starting at left-back.

And, if there were any lingering doubts about Mourinho's willingness to wind up Southampton, who are looking to win their first significant trophy since 1976 - when they beat United 1-0 to win the FA Cup - he dispelled them on Friday.

VICTORIOUS FRAME OF MIND

When you have a taste of good things, you want to repeat. I think when you get used to winning, when you don't want (to) win, you miss it.

JOSE MOURINHO, explaining why the desire to win is a key ingredient.

"Of course they want (to win it) a lot, but I don't think that they want it more than us," Mourinho said. "I don't think that they are more motivated than us."

The United manager is considering switching to a 4-3-3 formation for the match. If that happens, the fit-again Michael Carrick, along with Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera, will line up in midfield behind Anthony Martial, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata. In that scenario, there would be no No. 10 role for Rooney to occupy.

"I have to make a decision," Mourinho said on Rooney. "We normally play two different systems. Sometimes we play with two midfield players and a No. 10. And sometimes we play with a No. 6 and two midfield players in front.

"Without Mkhitaryan, if we want to play with a No. 10, obviously (we have) Wayne. It's his position. It's where he was playing with us for many matches. A final is a special match and he is an option for me."

This is a special final for Mourinho. If he wins, it will be his fourth League Cup victory, a record matched only by two of his biggest idols, Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.

The omens for the Portuguese look good. Before the second leg of United's semi-final against Hull City, he had not lost a match in the tournament inside 90 minutes in all his time in England.

The League Cup was the first trophy that he lifted in England, 12 years ago with Chelsea. Five more winners' medals followed in the space of just over two years at Stamford Bridge.

"When you have a taste of good things, you want to repeat," Mourinho said. "I think when you get used to winning, when you don't want (to) win, you miss it. You don't accept it and you are always chasing more success."

United have won the League Cup four times , most recently in 2010.

Southampton were also celebrating that February weekend seven years ago, but it is a measure of their understated but remarkable rise that the victory came against Walsall in League One.

Now firmly established in the Premier League, Claude Puel's side might be underdogs on their first appearance at Wembley since 2010, but that is nothing new for them.

It is 41 years since then second-tier Southampton shocked United to lift the only major trophy in the club's history. Now they aim to repeat that upset by winning the League Cup in their first appearance in the final since 1979.

" It's a long time (the 1976 FA Cup win) and it will be fantastic to take a good result," Puel said. "I can understand the good atmosphere around the team and the fans, but it's important for us to keep focused and with a good concentration about the game. We have to keep the good attitude and good spirit."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MAN UNITED V SOUTHAMPTON

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Form the ultimate factor for Jose'. Print Edition | Subscribe