Manchester United go into their fourth WSL season still trying to break into the league's top three and qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
The Red Devils fell out of the top three in the last month of the 2021/22 campaign, having dropped too many points from winning positions in the final 15 minutes of games during the preceding months (10 to be precise). That allowed Manchester City to leapfrog them at the death.
Even though expectations were low at the start of last season due to a difficult period that had seen former manager Casey Stoney suddenly resign, the improvement and development throughout the campaign was clear to see, offering promise for the 2022/23 season now ahead.
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Man Utd Women key players 2022/23
Star performances at Euro 2022 for England have made Ella Toone a household name since the start of July. United fans have been singing her praises for years already and last season in particular was something of a breakout year after stepping into a more senior role following the departure of several experienced players.
Still just 23 even now, Toone's development over the last 12 months has been phenomenal and is only getting better and better. She will primarily be the team's starting 'number 10', but is versatile enough to also play wide, as a deep-lying play-maker or run beyond the ball.
One to watch
Even though United won a league and cup double at WSL Academy level last season, the chances of any academy graduate breaking into the first-team in 2022/23 are low - a number of the double winners, including Karna Solskjaer, Poppy Lawson and Maria Edwards have also left to take professional contracts in Norway, Scotland and Germany respectively.
That is why for one to watch, look to new signing Maya Le Tissier from Brighton. The 20-year-old already has substantial WSL experience despite her age and although known as a full-back also has the ability to play in the centre of defence as well. She will provide cover and competition in both positions and it could even be that she replaces Hannah Blundell as a starter before too long.
Man Utd Women manager
United appointed Marc Skinner as a replacement for Casey Stoney at the end of July 2021, just five weeks before the start of that season - Stoney had walked away in May, meaning that the club lacked direction for much of the summer and had little time to adapt to the new manager's tactical system.
Skinner, who previously had success in the WSL with Birmingham - also taking the Blues to an FA Cup final, made the switch to Manchester after a spell in the NWSL with Orlando Pride. His style of play has been described by club captain Katie Zelem as matching his personality - 'fun and energetic'. He comes over as extremely passionate and an idealist determined to stick to his beliefs.
This summer has been his first full pre-season with the squad and his first opportunity to properly influence recruitment and bring in players that best match his vision for the team.
Man Utd Women summer transfers
- Adriana Leon (FW) - West Ham - details
- Rachel Williams (FW) - Tottenham - details
- Grace Clinton (MF) - Everton
- Maya Le Tissier (DF) - Brighton - details
- Lucia Garcia (FW) - Athletic Club - details
- Nikita Parris (FW) - Arsenal - details
- Aissatou Tounkara (DF) - Atletico Madrid - details
- Karna Solskjaer (FW) - AaFK Fortuna - details
- Poppy Lawson (DF) - Hibernian - details
- Martha Harris (DF) - Birmingham -details
- Diane Caldwell (DF) - Reading
- Fran Bentley (GK) - Bristol City
- Ivana Ferreira Fuso (FW) - Bayer Leverkusen - loan - details
- Kirsty Smith (DF) - West Ham
- Carrie Jones (MF) - Leicester - loan
- Tara Bourne (DF) - Birmingham - loan
- Emily Ramsey (GK) - Everton - loan
- Chloe Williams (MF) - Blackburn - loan
- Niamh Murphy (DF) - Blackburn - loan
- Kirsty Hanson (FW) - Aston Villa - loan - details
- Jackie Groenen (MF) - PSG - details
Having inherited a squad last summer only a few weeks before the season began, Skinner was determined to strengthen in the transfer market this year to put his own stamp on things and United have done that. They prioritised the recruitment of attacking variance, but also added at the back and have brought in both experienced heads and emerging talent among their seven new faces.
The loss of Jackie Groenen is a blow because of her quality and experience at the highest level. But it could end up handing Vilde Boe Risa the kind of consistent opportunities she lacked in her first year with the club. No other summer departures were starters last season.
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- Marc Skinner explains Jackie Groenen's Man Utd exit
Man Utd Women WSL history
Manchester United were promoted to the WSL in 2019 after winning the Women's Championship at a canter, having only reformed a first-team squad the year before. They immediately became the 'best of the rest' behind the league's 'big three' - Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, before going agonisingly close to qualifying for the Champions League two years in a row under different coaches.
Man Utd WSL prediction
In the circumstances, the 2021/22 season was arguably a free hit for Manchester United and Marc Skinner. The fact they still went went so close to getting into the top three and qualifying for the Champions League anyway suggests there is plenty of reason to be optimistic now that the boss is properly prepared for the coming campaign, is more familiar with his players and vice versa, and has also put his own stamp on things in the transfer market.
The target for United hasn't changed but after so many near misses, the expectations among fans are growing. Expect Chelsea to be out of sight at the top and Arsenal to likely at least hold steady above them, but with Manchester City losing a number of key players over the summer and going through considerable changes, there is a clear opportunity for United to at last land in third place.