Ahead of the EFL Cup final, we have been getting the thoughts of some experienced Southampton reporters. This time, it's the turn of Saints fan Joe Prince-Wright, the Lead Soccer Writer and Editor at NBC Sports...
How does it feel to see Southampton in a major final again?
“It’s pretty incredible for the city. In my lifetime, it’s only been the FA Cup final in 2003, so I’ve grown up only hearing about 1976 and 1979. I think everyone in Southampton of a certain generation really has been hoping for a major cup final for a while. I think it’s a great reward for the club and for all the hard work since 2009, when the Liebherr family came in and took over.
“This is a big, one-off day. Obviously, the JPT final was a big occasion, but this is on a whole other level.
joe prince-wrightif the players pull it off, they will be heroes in the city for pretty much the rest of their lives.
“I’ve heard from people all over the world who are flying to England this weekend – people in the States, or people who will be tuning in from the Caribbean or Australia or wherever.
"For anyone from Southampton, they kind of understand these occasions only come around once in a while, and these players, if they pull it off, they will be heroes for pretty much the rest of their lives in the city, and they won’t have to buy a drink there again. It’s incredible and it’s going to be a great atmosphere from the Saints fans, I’m sure."
What have you made of this run to the final and what has struck you most about it?
“The only game I’ve missed is the Crystal Palace game – the first one. I don’t want to jinx it, but it almost seems a little bit fated, the way that certain players have stepped in. The youngsters have done really well. I remember back to being at St Mary’s for Sofiane Boufal’s incredible goal that won that game, and Arsenal away was an absolutely superb display.
"I spoke with Steven Davis and Ryan Bertrand after the game at the Emirates, and they said it was about time the team had a good cup run and that the aim had to be to win a trophy. You could see that they truly believed it. That, to me, set the tone for this whole run – the squad was focused on at least getting to Wembley.
"With the squad rotation, it has showed how strong the squad has been as well. There’s been kind of an air of confidence and a freshness about the team in this competition. They haven’t conceded a goal, obviously, which is an incredible achievement in itself.
“Even in the semi-final, in those two big games against Liverpool, Saints went into the game and created a lot of chances and honestly could have won by five or six in the end over the two legs.
“I think it’s long overdue getting to a cup final, and it’s just all come together nicely. The fact it’s been all against Premier League teams shows the quality and strength in depth the squad has this season."
How big an achievement would it be for the club to win?
“It would be right up there with ’76. It would only be the second major title in the club’s history. For this generation of Saints fans, it would be the pinnacle and a great reward for all the hard work that has gone in.
“Yes, 1976 holds a special place in people’s hearts. It’s not that I’m tired about hearing about that, but I’d love there to be a new moment in Saints’ history that fans could look back on and have on an equal footing. It’s been a long time coming and I think it’s about time Saints had new history in their folklore.”
You've seen a lot of Manchester United this season as well. What have you made of them, and how much of a challenge will they pose?
“They’re kind of like a juggernaut at the moment. They’re going a lot better. I’ve seen them a lot recently and they keep grinding out these results.
“Defensively I think that's been the big improvement, whether it’s the defensive unit, or Carrick or Herrera sitting in front – it really allows the likes of Pogba and Ibrahimović to link up better in attack, and the attacking options they have go on and on. They’re willing to do the defensive work as well, and I think Mourinho is starting to see this as his team now, even though they’re a long way from being the finished article under him.
“But only one defeat in 25 games in all competitions kind of says it all. Right now, they are obviously the heavy favourites for Sunday."
Which players have to have a big game for Southampton, if they are to overcome United then?
“Oriol Romeu has been absolutely sensational this season. Hopefully he can do a good job on Pogba, after he got injured early on in the game at Old Trafford this season. I think he can do a good job of stopping that link up, and then Saints will have a chance.
“He’s been my player of the season, alongside Virgil van Dijk, who obviously won’t be featuring, and that links into the centre-backs. Yoshida, I think with his experience, really needs to step up and try to shackle Zlatan.
“I think Dušan Tadić as well. He’s playing more centrally now and that’s his best role for me. That partnership he has with Gabbiadini is encouraging, and he’s come in and scored three goals in his first two games, and that partnership will be key.
“The final one for me would be Fraser Forster. If you’re the heavy underdog and you’re going to win a trophy, you always need your goalkeeper to come up with some big saves. I think Fraser’s got that in his locker for sure."
How do you rate the team’s chances against United?
“If I had to give it a percentage, I’d probably say 30 per cent. Going into this game, there’s certainly a lot of hope, given the semi-final victory over Liverpool, and Saints are going to need a very similar performance to that.
joe prince-wrightthis game could be set up pretty well for saints if they can soak up the pressure.
“Southampton are very dangerous on the break, and when I look at the full-backs – Ryan Bertrand and Cédric – they always give an option on the break, then there’s the pace of Redmond, and Tadić's creativity as well. I just think Saints have a lot of options on the counter, and this game could be set up pretty well for them if they can soak up the pressure, because there’s going to be chances for them. Then, it’s all about being clinical, which they were against Sunderland recently."
How much are you personally looking forward to working the final?
“It’s going to be very emotional, I think. I’ll probably be a bit of a nervous wreck in the press box. It’s a great experience. I got to go to the European games this season and have seen this team grow and develop over the past few years while working for NBC Sports.
“As someone born and bred in Southampton and who holds the club very close to my heart, I just hope they can get it over the line, and I hope to see them walking up those famous steps at Wembley lifting the trophy.
“My whole family are all huge Saints fans, and I grew up watching the club at The Dell and have seen some famous wins against Man United over the years.
“My dad, mum and sister will all be at Wembley on Sunday, scattered around the stadium supporting the team. Whatever happens, I’ll meet up with my family in London after the game… but hopefully we will be celebrating a famous win!"