The women’s team occupied 1st place in Barclay’s Women’s Super League from the start last season until the new year. Then things turned, with injuries for the Red Devils while the other teams stepped on the gas. Can Manchester United Women challenge in order to get to play Champions League football for the first time in the club’s history?
The expectations of Manchester United’s women’s team grew quickly after a stunning performance as a newly-built team in the Championship back in 2017/18. Immediately United won the league title and went into the WSL with great expectations.
Since then the women’s team has managed several solid and stable performances while mixing them with some low-key ones as well. Ending up fourth in the table in their first WSL campaign when the season abruptly came to an end because of Covid-19 was indeed a surprise. And yet not.
It would have been fair to say that no one would have had that expectation for a newcomer in England’s highest division. But after all – this is Manchester United. One of the biggest clubs in the world.
When the women yet again, last season ended up fourth, many probably had expected more after the strong start of the campaign. When former head coach Casey Stoney announced she was stepping down and would leave the club there were fans’ shoulders dropping. Many probably started to think that the hill to climb ahead of the season that is about to kick off this weekend, would be too hard to climb yet again.
After a summer in limbo, at the end of July, the club finally announced Marc Skinner as the women’s team’s new boss. Reactions were mixed and opinions were different across the fanbase. Skinner himself said:
“I am excited and proud to become head coach at Manchester United. I’m looking forward to working closely with the staff and this talented group of players. Our focus is to build on everything they have already achieved in the women’s game. It’s an exciting opportunity to lead the team into what will be another competitive WSL season; I want us to achieve success together and our aim is to give the fans a team they can continue to be proud of.“
Can the former Orlando Pride head coach bring the success that so many are waiting for?
Last season’s standout performances:
United welcomed reigning Champions Chelsea to Leigh Sports Village in the first round the previous season. Managing to steal a point from the Blues from London was seen as a huge, but yet not surprising achievement, after a 1-1 draw. Still, that was just the start of United going onwards and upwards for the first half of the season. Leah Galton started the team’s goal-scoring last season when she scored the equaliser in the 79th minute of last season’s premiere.
In round six, the success was a fact, when Arsenal came for a visit and Ella Toone scored the only goal of the game in the 83rd minute. History was written yet again. The first win against the Gunners. The week after, Manchester City was the opponent. After being 2-0 down after the first half, few thought that what actually did happen in the second half, would happen. Tobin Heath scored an absolute screamer and Kirsty Hanson the equaliser. Five points from the top three teams before the new year and the league would turn for the reversed fixtures.
Players in, players out:
Not only Casey Stoney left the club. There were also players leaving:
Jess Sigsworth (released/signed for Leicester)
Jane Ross (released/signed for Rangers FC)
Tobin Heath (new club is not announced yet)
Christen Press (traded by Angel City in the NWSL)
Amy Turner (sold/signs for Orlando Pride)
Lauren James (sold/signed for Chelsea)
Abbie McManus (released/signed for Leicester City)
Emily Ramsey signs for Birmingham City on loan
Fran Bentley signs for Bristol City on loan
New Arrivals :
Norwegian international and midfielder Vilde Boe Risa from Sandviken
Defender Hannah Blundell from Chelsea
Goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley from Bristol City
Defender Aoife Mannion from local rival Manchester City
Forward Martha Thomas from West Ham United
Players to look out for:
United have an exciting squad with a lot of players to “lookout for” this upcoming season. However, Ona Batlle was among the standout players during the previous season which also was her first in the WSL.
Batlle played 1,885 minutes in total across all domestic competitions with United last season. She alternated between the right and the left-hand side at the back and finished the season in a more offensive role against Leicester in the FA Cup where she played as a right-winger.
On average per 90 minutes, the talented Spaniard had 65.9 % successful actions per game, which is more than good for a first season abroad. Batlle was among the players that performed consistently. The ball-winning defender showed typical Spanish ‘close control’ every time she got a hold of the ball.
Among other consistent players, Dutch midfielder Jackie Groenen should be mentioned. With the arrival of Vilde Boe Risa, could this be the season where Jackie Groenen will get a consistent position and role as well? Risa is a natural No.8 in the Norwegian national team, often in the role as one of two central defensive midfielders, who also have a great vision for the game to assist her teammates in attack with delicious through-balls but also able to score when the opportunity shows up.
Groenen was moved around a lot in different positions/roles across the midfield the previous season. She averaged, according to WyScout, 54.9 % success in total actions per 90 minutes played, but having a more clear defensive role in the midfield in one of the season’s last games vs Tottenham, that number was 77 %. Could she maybe take charge of the No.6 position and perform on that level for the Red Devils in the 2021/22 season? This puts her on the list as one of the players to really lookout for…
So, what is a realistic prediction for the 2021/22 season?
On paper, Manchester United is a little bit behind the top three. Winning or stealing points from Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal is definitely a possibility though. If all players can stay fit and Skinner will find a good way to use his midfield because in terms of the players United have there; it should be a solid functional unit.
The realistic goal? Competing with Everton for fourth place.
The dream goal? Top three and Champions League football.
Is it impossible? No.
Will it be tough? Yes.
Let the season begin.
Manchester United vs Reading Friday, September 3rd
Kick-off: 7:45 PM
Selected for broadcasting on Sky Sports in the UK, ViaPlay/NENT Group