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Three players that could fire Manchester United to cup glory

Saturday 25th February 2017
Manchester United are gearing up for the EFL Cup final against Southampton on Sunday as Jose Mourinho looks to acquire his first piece of silverware with the club. It is a game that could start United's push for four different trophies this season. While one of those trophies, the Premier League, seems to be moving further out of their reach, they do at least have legitimate aspirations of winning the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and the Europa League.

United's EFL Cup opponents, Southampton, will be no pushovers though with the Premier League's 11th placed side having knocked Liverpool out in the previous round. Therefore the Red Devils must be at the top of their game if they are to lift the first trophy of the season.

With Manchester United's squad packed with potential match-winners, we pick out the three players that usually go under the radar, but could have a big say on the game. Therefore, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and David de Gea have all been omitted from this list.

Michael Carrick

Manchester United's go to midfielder. Many cited Carrick's age as a problem for United with the former Tottenham player turning 36 this year, however, his age has not seen a diminishing of his abilities. The Englishman has been outstanding for United when he has been able to play, with his ability to break up play, his vision and his ball playing range driving Manchester United forward.

Where he will be most important on Sunday is in his big game experience. Manchester United are not bereft of experience, however, they have not been part of a plethora of cup finals, with the exception of the FA Cup final last season. Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, they have not been the same all-conquering team of the past. Carrick is a survivor of his side, though, with the midfielder adept at being a working part of a winning team. Carrick could prove a to be a truly vital component of Mourinho's plan on Sunday.

Juan Mata

The little Spaniard is a man that would have been terrified when Mourinho was confirmed as the new manager of Manchester United. After Mourinho dispensed of his services at Chelsea, the midfielder would have thought that his time at Manchester United would have been coming to a close. However, instead of cursing his bad luck, Mata dedicated himself to working hard and proving to Mourinho that he was a player that he could not afford to sell, and what a huge addition to the team Mata has been.

His ability to play between the lines has been invaluable to United with his range of passing, clever touches and adept finishing proving just how talented a player he is. The fact he is comfortable playing on either flank, or behind the striker means that he is superbly versatile. In conjunction with this, his work ethic is very different from the man that Mourinho forced out of Chelsea. He is willing to work far harder for the cause of the team when they have lost possession and he is not quite as rash in the tackle as he used to be. A victory, providing Mourinho's first piece of silverware at United, would constitute a huge victory for Mata if he is a part of the United team, something that is quite likely considering Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been ruled out of the final.

Chris Smalling

Jose Mourinho's sides have always been ones which are built upon defensive solidity and an ability to hold a lead. His title-winning teams at Chelsea, in particular, can attest to this, with their ability to score freely obvious, however, when they were struggling to find the back of the net, they could always fall back on their ability to defend incredibly well. In the last few years, Manchester United have had an enviable defence, simply because of the man standing as the last line of defence. David de Gea has been incredible for United and he has won them a game on more than one occasion.

However, this season, Mourinho has transformed their defence into a far more solid and dependable backline that is not constantly relying on their goalkeeper. United have conceded just 21 goals in 25 Premier League games this term, a superb return considering top side Chelsea have conceded three less and they are touted as having the best defence in the league.

At the heart of this effort has been Chris Smalling. The English defender has not always had things his way at United, with constantly changing defensive partners not allowing for any real consistency and form at the back. However, the introduction of Eric Bailly into the team this season has given Smalling a consistent partner, allowing him to thrive. His size, pace and aerial ability mean he is a very well-rounded defender and he is becoming a real leader in the team. It is likely that at some point that Smalling will have to try to nullify the threat of Shane Long in the game, a battle that could decide where the cup goes this Sunday.
Ben Darvill

I graduated with an upper second class degree in English and Creative writing from Cardiff Metropolitan University. I have been a freelance sports writer since leaving University and have written for a number of online websites. I am a Chelsea and England fan but I enjoy watching any team play as I have an intense passion for football.

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