Manchester United captain Katie Zelem has described the two-week break since a momentous WSL win over Arsenal as ‘catch 22’ for the squad because that time out of action before facing Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Saturday has both positive and negative implications.
Having lost to Chelsea in early November, their first league defeat of the season, United responded by mounting a 3-2 comeback win at the Emirates Stadium when club football resumed after the recent international break.
Another two-week pause in the club schedule, during which time United have played a behind closed doors friendly, has offered both the chance for rest for starters and minutes for those less involved so far this season. But there is a risk that positive momentum fades.
“It's catch 22 in football. Everyone is dying for a break, but equally when you’ve got a good run of momentum, you want to keep it going,” Zelem said of the paradoxical situation.
“We’ve got to look at it as a positive. People were able to get minutes in a friendly match we played. We obviously had a hard week of training and it means we’ve been able to prep properly for the Villa game. Often, when there are really busy three game weeks, it reduces your prep time.
“As a team, we’re in a really good place going into the weekend and we all can’t wait.”
United manager Marc Skinner welcomed the opportunity for rest, insisting that it is the team that is responsible for nurturing momentum.
“It was probably a good moment to recharge, get everybody fresh and just make sure we’re competitive within the team because that’s the real driving factor for us,” Skinner explained.
“I’ve said this before, whether it’s a loss going into a break, or a win going into a break, it’s about us taking charge of momentum.”
As far as the game itself, United have won on both previous occasions they have played at Old Trafford – against West Ham in 2021 and Everton earlier in 2022 – and find familiarity that the pitch dimensions are actually the same as at usual home stadium Leigh Sports Village.
Even if the setting will obviously be different because of the much larger stands that surround the grass, it feeds into their preferred style of play and makes the transition smoother.
“We pride ourselves on keeping the ball and building our attacks. For us, at Old Trafford that will be vitally important,” Zelem went on to say.
“We know that Villa will try and catch us on the break and they’ve got a lot of attacking threats. We need to look at it like we’re playing at Leigh…it’s obviously a lot harder when there are so many more people and huge stands around you. It’s just another game for us and that’s how we’re taking it.”