Manchester United cruised to a 5-0 win over Aston Villa in the WSL at Old Trafford, with goals spread throughout the team in an impressive show of squad depth.
Katie Zelem got the ball rolling, with Leah Galton, Alessia Russo, Ona Batlle and Rachel Williams all getting in on the fact in a comprehensive overall performance.
Despite the one-sided result, Marc Skinner admitted there was still room for improvement, suggesting that even 2-0 up at half-time his team was only ‘halfway’ happy.
“We’re setting our standards that high that I felt there were times in this game we could have been more clinical,” the manager explained.
“That’s a great sign for us,” he added pointing to the fact United had won so convincingly anyway.
It was the way that Skinner’s team particularly attacked in wide areas and made full use of the enormous Old Trafford pitch which really underpinned the performance and the result.
United are used to a big playing surface. The pitch at usual home Leigh Sports Village shares the same dimensions as the hallowed turf at Old Trafford, but the towering stands at the ‘Theatre of Dream’s make it seem even bigger.
Leigh suits the playing style for that reason and it went further at Old Trafford. It was clear from the early stages of the game that United were looking to use the size of the pitch to stretch things and pull a Villa side that wanted to play it tight and compact out of their defensive shape.
United had been frustrated by the same opponent in the closing stages of last season – a 0-0 draw – to add the final nail in the coffin of their WSL top thee and Champions League hopes.
This time, there was no repeat.
All five of the goals were created by moves on the right. Zelem’s opener was the product of Batlle effectively performing as an additional winger, while the second from Galton saw Russo come short at a throw-in on the right to start it off. The third was Ella Toone’s run into space down the right, finding Russo in the box, with Batlle getting the fourth after surging forward again, before the Spanish star turned provider for substitute Williams with a low cross from that side.
“We knew [Villa] would be compact so it’s important for our full-backs to get higher and we can get out down the sides,” Skinner explained afterwards.
But United also weren’t one-dimensional in the way attacked with width.
“What I appreciate that we do is we’re not just looking like we’re going to cross every time. We can come back across and move the opponent and then you stop their counters as well – which Rachel Daly and Kenza Dali are very good at,” the boss went on to say.
‘Manoeuvring the opponent’ all over the pitch, he concluded was key.
Batlle proved particularly important to the way United played, arguably back at her best following a return to action against Arsenal earlier this month after previously missing a number of games stemming from a concussion suffered way back in mid-October.
“She’s a modern, progressive, aggressive full-back,” Skinner gushed.
“With the ball, she’s obviously excellent. Without the ball, we’re still going to continue working with her and there are parts of her game she can improving, which is super exciting.
“The goal today was ridiculous, just ridiculous. She has the ability to do that. She’s super progressive and when she’s flying, she’s in those positions more often than not. That really helps any team.”