Claude Puel's men are the market outsiders in Sunday's final at Wembley, but Jack Lang has found some cause for optimism...
"The January arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini has been a welcome boost: The Italian has settled with welcome speed, scoring three times in his first two starts"
Manchester United are [1.8] favourites to win their first trophy of the season in the League Cup final this Sunday. But there are a few factors that suggest Southampton could be a value bet at [5.6]...
1. They have been impeccable in the competition so far
The Saints are having a middling season in the Premier League - their current standing of 11th is probably a bit below par - but have been superb all the way through their League Cup run to Wembley. They have won all five of their matches, all of them against Premier League opposition (unlike Man United, who kicked off with a victory over Northampton Town).
Most impressively, Southampton are yet to concede a single goal in the competition so far, despite having met Arsenal and Liverpool (twice) en route to Sunday's final. That, maths fans, is a whopping 450 minutes of pure defensive solidity.
Now admittedly they have lost Virgil van Dijk to injury, but youngster Jack Stevens stepped up to the plate in the second leg of the semi-final at Anfield and has begun to form a promising partnership with Maya Yoshida. If they can reproduce the kind of gritty displays that have got them this far, they could frustrate the Red Devils.
2. They have now got a striker who scores goals
For much of the season, Claude Puel operated a revolving-door policy with his strikers. That was partly for tactical reasons, the Frenchman chopping and changing depending on the opposition, but also because none of his attacking options did enough to nail down the position once and for all: Charlie Austin got injured, Jay Rodriguez is still looking for consistency and Shane Long is notoriously hit-and-miss.
The January arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini seems to have changed things, however. The Italian has settled with welcome speed, slamming home a fine goal in his debut against West Ham and following it up with a brace against Sunderland last time out. The former Napoli man will be high on confidence going into this game, then, and, with Champions League experience under his belt, won't be fazed by the occasion. He could trouble United's backline.
3. They should be well rested and drilled
Since beating Watford on 11 February, José Mourinho's charges have played three times and travelled to the south of France for the second leg of the Europa League success over Saint-Étienne.
Since beating Sunderland on 11 February, Southampton have... well, they haven't played at all since then. This should mean they are rested, while Puel will surely have relished the opportunity to drill his side at length on the training pitch. That's a luxury few managers get in the middle of the season and could give the underdogs an advantage.
4. They face a weakened United
The Red Devils have plenty of strength in depth, but there's no denying that they will not have their very best starting XI out at Wembley. That's because Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been ruled out of the match with the hamstring strain he suffered in Wednesday night's win at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
That is a sizeable blow for United, for whom Mkhitaryan has been a creative force over the last few weeks. In his absence, there could be a more central role for Juan Mata, with two of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard on the flanks - hardly a solution to be sniffed at, but the Armenian's subtle promptings will definitely be missed.
There are also question marks over United's defence, with the promising Phil Jones/Marcos Rojo partnership having been temporarily broken up due to niggling knocks. The former is unlikely to start on Sunday and Eric Bailly has not always been wholly convincing when deputising.
5. They have Dušan Tadić
Sorry, but if you don't think the man is an absolute genius, you cannot be trusted as a person. The only question is why he's not playing 90 minutes week in, week out for a Champions League team.