Have Southampton pulled the rabbit out the hat yet again with the appointment in Claude Puel? The club have a bit of a knack of unearthing world-class managerial talent, and it looks like chairman Ralph Kreuger could have landed on a goldmine again after the Saints reached their first League Cup final since 1979.
The Frenchman came under heavy criticism in the early stages of the season after it took all of five games to register their first win of the campaign, a narrow 1-0 win over Swansea City on 18 September. But along with this glorious cup run, the 55-year-old has turned it around down on the south coast and allowed the Saints fans to dream of their first bit of meaningful silverware in 41 years (I don't think the Johnstone's Paint trophy counts, does it?).
You would have been forgiven for thinking the south coast side weren't going to put up much resistance after the rumours were confirmed and arguably the best defender in the Premier League Virgil Van Dijk was ruled out of last night's second leg (January 25) through injury. But think again.
Puel pulled off a defensive masterclass and proved why it was more about the system as opposed to personnel. Just before the first leg Jose Fonte handed in a transfer request, did that make any difference? No. Before the second leg, no Van Dijk, did it make a difference? No. 22-year-old Jack Stephens had never even started a game for Southampton before their trip to Anfield on Wednesday night.
But the former Plymouth Argyle centre-back seamlessly slotted in next to Maya Yoshida at the heart of defence like he'd been playing in red and white all season. Claude Puel's men were tactically astute throughout, and although they rode their luck at times and had keeper Forster to thank for that wonder save, their performance over the two legs more than merits their place at Wembley – they were simply the better side.
Let's not forget, not only did Puel's side not concede a goal in 180 minutes of play against a free-scoring Liverpool side who have in fact scored more goals than any other Premier League side this campaign, but they are the first team ever have to have reached the final of the League Cup without conceding a single goal. And it's not like they've had an easy route to the final, Liverpool were the 4th side from England's top division to toppled by the side who currently sit 11th in the PL standings after Crystal Palace, Sunderland and then Arsenal had all fallen victim to a defensively resolute Southampton side.
Jurgen Klopp's men failed to penetrate a Southampton midfield and that was evident from the first minute – Romeu, Steve Davis and Ward-Prowse did not give the likes of Henderson, Can and Coutinho a moment's peace. And for all Liverpool's possession, it was the visitors who should have taken the lead after Tadic and Davis both missed chances in front of the Kop before Shane Long did seal it in front of the travelling support as the game entered second-half injury-time.
And Ward-Prowse, who has featured 124 times for the Saints since coming through their academy, has warned whoever his side may face in the final that they are not just at Wembley to make up the numbers. 'It's obviously going to be a great day out, but it's not something we're looking to just participate in. We're looking to go and win now," the 22-year-old said.
Boss Peul was quick to heap praise on youngsters Jack Stephens and Josh Sims after his side's 2-0 aggregate win. "Jack played very well, like an experienced player with good technique and he was calm.
"He was strong in the duels and I'm happy for him because he's another player from the Academy so congratulations to the trainers and the good work they keep doing for Southampton.
"It's fantastic and at the end, Josh Sims makes a good assist for Shane Long. All this is a good balance between experienced players and younger players.
Southampton will play either Manchester United or Hull City in the final at Wembley on Sunday 26 February, the two go head to head on Thursday night at the KCOM with United currently 2-0 up on aggregate.