How else to interpret Mourinho’s team selection other than a tacit admission from the Manchester United manager that Thursday’s Europa League second-leg tie with Anderlecht was of more importance than this league game and, therefore, required the resting of tired veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
Of course, what that analysis failed to take into account was a tactical masterstroke by Mourinho.
Having injected much-needed pace into the United forward line by pushing up Jesse Lingard to partner Marcus Rashford, Mourinho also mirrored Chelsea’s three-man back line, allowing the speedy Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to take up advanced positions and add even more energy to his team’s recently moribund attacking play.
That also served to bolster United’s midfield and allowed Mourinho to unleash his tactical piece de resistance, with Ander Herrera performing a man-marking job on Eden Hazard that was so complete that the Chelsea playmaker must have expected his opponent would sit next to him in the visitors’ dressing room at half-time.
The fact that Herrera scored the decisive second goal early in the second half merely underlined that this was, even more than the League Cup final win over Southampton, Mourinho’s finest hour as United manager to date.
Apart from the sheer football acumen Mourinho brought to bear on proceedings, his recent handling of his young forwards also proved significant.
The United manager has taken the unusual step of calling out Rashford, Lingard and Anthony Martial by name, pointing out their dreadful ratio of chances to goals and Frenchman Martial, poor again in the trip to Anderlecht on Thursday, did not even merit a place on the bench yesterday.
But if Mourinho’s desired effect was to provide the remaining two young local forwards with the proverbial kick up the rear, then his man management has been magnificent based on their respective displays against a Chelsea defence that has been virtually impregnable for large parts of this season.
Pacy and direct, Lingard and Rashford troubled Chelsea’s back three from the off and, even allowing for the loss and disruption caused by the injury of Marcos Alonso in the pre-game warm-up, there was no excuse for the terrified manner in which David Luiz and Gary Cahill failed to cope with their opponents.
Nor should Mourinho’s own considerable ego be underestimated. After losing his first two meetings with his former employers this season, this was simply not a game Mourinho was prepared to lose and it brought the very best out of him.
Chelsea may not agree but the Premier League – and the title race – is a better place this morning for that fact.
Southampton twice came from behind in a 3 – 2 defeat for the Saints.
Manolo Gabbiadini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic traded two goals each with Lingard getting the other goal for United.
A controversial and thrilling match saw Manolo Gabbiadini’s strike wrongly ruled out for offside before Ibrahimovic struck with an impressive free-kick at the other end to open the scoring.
Jesse Lingard got the second, finding the bottom-right corner after a neat team move to net on his third consecutive Wembley appearance for United.
Gabbiadini however gave the Saints hope with a goal in the first-half stoppage time.
Gabbiadini made it five goals in three Saints matches with a magnificent finish early in the second half, blocking Smalling to volley past De Gea.
Ibrahimovic scored the winner with three minutes to go and his 26th goal of the season converting with a header from Herrera’s cross.
This is Mourinho’s first major trophy as United manager and his fourth EFL Cup glory following the three he won with Chelsea.
The cup win also means United are now the most successful team in England with 42 major honours ahead of Liverpool who have 41 major honours.
It easily could have been a case of mistaken identity as a very familiar looking pitch invader met his doppelganger during the Red Devils’ clash with Leicester City
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho may have made headlines for dropping Wayne Rooney, but at one stage during his side’s clash with Leicester City, he had two Zlatan Ibrahimovics on the pitch!
While pitch invaders are nothing new at Premier League grounds, the supporter who broke onto the Old Trafford turf had a certain resemblance to a particular Sweden international striker.
In fact, the pitch invader even made it all the way over to long lost twin Ibrahimovic, trying to embrace the United striker before stewards were forced to intervene and escort him from the pitch.
United are no stranger to pitch invaders, most notably back in 2001 when Karl Power dressed in the full kit to take his part in the team photograph for a UEFA Champions League game with Bayern Munich.
With Rooney benched and Mourinho exploring other options in attack for Manchester United, perhaps the Red Devils could go for a double Ibrahimovic strikeforce in future games?