AND we thought it wasn’t really going to matter. Because, well, it normally doesn’t. Ordinarily, for all the pomp and Wembley circumstance the League Cup doesn’t leave much of a trace. Manchester United won it last season and then went on a run where they won just two of seven in all competitions. The year before that, Manchester City lifted the trophy and then won one of their next five. Chelsea in their title-winning campaign? The failed to win two of their next three, getting knocked out of the Champions League in the process. City in 2013-14, when they went on to win the title? They lost their next two, getting eliminated from the FA Cup (at home by – ahem – Wigan) and the Champions League.

This is not to say the trophy carries with it some kind curse (unless you believe in that sort of thing). Rather, it is just a little disconnected from reality.

This time though, it is different. This time, it has an outsized importance.

Manchester City’s quadruple talk has been stowed away following their 1-0 defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup last week. Some of the Pep stardust also fell away at the DW Stadium as a result of the rabid shouting match with his opposite number, Paul Cook (the diatribe that launched a thousand “If that had been Mourinho…” musings on social media).

Another stumble won’t imperil the Champions League run – they are 4-0 up after their away leg in Basle – and the Premier League has been in the bag for a long time, but a setback, especially against this most schizophrenic of Arsenal sides, could well introduce what has been lacking all season long: self-doubt. And that may impact on their European ambition while making the remainder of the campaign feel anti-climactic.

As for Arsenal, this won’t redeem a campaign that will likely see them with their lowest league finish in the Arsene Wenger era. But getting one over on Pep Guardiola and City – the gold standard in Europe right now – will give the Frenchman political capital with the club, of the kind to be spent with Stan Kroenke, the owner, in the summer.

With the club having brought in two recruitment specialists, Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona and Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund, and Wenger entering the final year of his contract, proving to the ownership that he still has trophies in him as well as the ability to beat the big guys matters. Whichever you spin it, unlike their predecessor, Dick Law, Sanllehi and Mislintat aren’t Wenger appointees and were hired to outlast him. Victory today could change, or at least postpone, that narrative.

ONE of the things that made Jose Mourinho’s most illustrious predecessor at Old Trafford so effective was his ability to set the agenda. If Sir Alex Ferguson did not want to talk about something he made sure it was put to one side.

Sometimes he did this by intimidating and bullying the assembled media. More often than not, he would give them something else to talk about. It didn’t need to be something extreme: just a quote or an opinion or an anecdote about something that captured the fancy that day. As long as it was fresh, the press would gravitate that way and Sir Alex could avoid what he wanted to avoid.

Mourinho would clearly like the theme of Paul Pogba to go away, at least in its current narrative. Particularly on a day like today when Manchester United host Chelsea, managed by Antonio Conte, who got the best out of the Frenchman in their time together at Juventus.

In the past few months, the trope has gone from the notion that Pogba ought to be doing more and that, given his enormous fee, he should be able to play anywhere, to whether Mourinho is getting the best out of him and using him properly.

In some ways, we have been here before. In the summer of 2006, Chelsea signed Andriy Shevchenko for £30 million (a fee comparable to Pogba’s today) from AC Milan. Mourinho had won the previous two league titles at Stamford Bridge and, for whatever reason, never quite seemed to get along with the Ukrainian. Shevchenko quickly became a by-word for a certain type of money-grubbing foreigner and was quickly forgotten.

The key difference is that Pogba, despite his critics, is not under performing (only Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane have more league assists and both have played far more minutes), certainly not to the degree Shevchenko was. In addition, there is plenty of sympathy for Pogba and – because these days, it matters – his agent, Mino Raiola, still wields plenty of influence at United.

Mourinho can’t afford an escalation. He needs to find the simple solution: getting Pogba back into a role where he is a difference-maker and where everyone is happy. Pogba is no Shevchenko, the Glazers aren’t Roman Abramovich, Raiola is camped out at Old Trafford and, unlike 2006, Mourinho is no longer the universally adored and unquestioned guru he once was.

THIS is my final regular column for the Sunday Herald. I can only look back with awe at the good fortune I enjoyed in being given this opportunity many, many years ago, just a few months after the paper launched in 1999.

The fact that a Sunday newspaper would take a gamble and hand over valuable real estate to a then 25-year-old Italian with an American accent is something for which I will forever be grateful.

I’ve had the opportunity to narrate four World Cups, five European Championships, plus the Premier League and the continent’s top leagues, all along telling the story of how the game so many of us love changed momentously, more than anybody would have imagined, ever since that first column back in the last millennium.

Writing about sport is a privilege. This isn’t politics or business. Nobody needs to read sport. They choose to do it. They give up their time to do it. In an era of perpetual attention-deficits, with distractions at every turn, those moments of intimacy between writer and reader – your words, their minds – still fill me with wonder.

And, for that, all I feel is gratitude. To the men and women who opened the door for me, edited me, guided me and inspired me at this newspaper.

And to you, the reader, for sharing your time with me.