From Old Trafford - Manchester United cruised to a clinical 5-0 victory over Aston Villa in front of a club record 30,196 crowd at Old Trafford in Saturday’s early WSL kick-off.
The visitors ultimately struggled to compete and an early goal from United captain Katie Zelem was added to in the first half by Leah Galton, before Alessia Russo, Ona Batlle and substitute Rachel Williams racked up the score-line in the second half.
Using the size of the pitch to suit their style, the hosts were unsurprisingly dominant on the ball in the opening stages. Villa were content to sit in and try to spring counters, although there was no repeat of the shock early breakaway goal that Everton had scored in last season’s games here.
It was from out wide that the early opener was created. Full-back Batlle did what she does best, bursting down the right and putting a teasing ball into the box. Russo’s efforts to bundle it over the line were thwarted by Villa goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, but Zelem turned in the rebound.
United were held to a draw by Villa in the Continental Cup in October and were frustrated in their last league meeting. But a clinical first half performance produced a second goal before the half-hour mark through another well-worked move from the right.
Russo came short to receive the ball from a throw-in, with Ella Toone running beyond. Toone in turn put Galton through after her run off the shoulder of the last defender for a composed finish.
Villa weren’t generally making chances, but a good move saw Freya Gregory presented with a great chance at the far post. Her low shot was too weak to properly test Mary Earps, though. The visitors also thought they had pulled a goal back just before the break when Alisha Lehmann turned in a rebound after Freya Gregory’s shot was saved – but the latter was just offside.
United were aggrieved at not getting a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Hayley Ladd went down under pressure from Laura Blindkilde. Replays showed the defender didn’t win the ball.
Given that Villa had their best spell in the 10 or so minutes before half-time, the next goal was likely to be an important one. But United fans didn’t have to wait long after the restart for Russo to meet Toone’s cross at the far post to finish a simple but effective move – again from the right.
But Villa weren’t completely going down without fight and Earps made a fine save to deny Lehmann from range after the Swiss star had caught Zelem in possession. Maz Pacheco also had more time than she realised when she lashed a half-volley wide of the target.
Galton and substitute Martha Thomas had chances in quick succession to extend United’s lead, but the fourth goal, when it did come 15 minutes before the end, was the pick of the bunch. Batlle had been relatively quiet since the first half but got forward down the right and rifled a fierce shot that struck both the bar and far post before it nestled in the back of the net.
United should have had a fifth not long after but owed a refereeing clanger for not getting it. Galton was brought down through on goal but stood up to finish the chance anyway, yet the whistle had been too prematurely blown for a free-kick instead of letting the situation play out.
There was still time for an actual fifth, with Batlle grabbing her second assist down the right by playing in Williams for a tap-in a couple of yards out.
Man Utd player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Mary Earps - 7/10 - Again a commanding and reassuring presence beheind the back four. Made important saves when Villa were able to put moves together.
RB: Ona Batlle - 9/10 - Played like an additional winger when United had the ball and created the early goal after one of her marauding runs. Scored the best goal of the day before grabbing a direct assist in stoppage time.
CB: Maya Le Tissier - 7/10 - Excellent on the ball and always looked fairly comfortable against an in-form Daly.
CB: Millie Turner - 6/10 - Commanding in the air and carried the ball forward out of defence with confidence a few times. Not massively
LB: Hannah Blundell - 6/10 - More reserved than Batlle in an attacking sense.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) - 7/10 - Scored a rare goal from open play after gambling and getting into the box. Usually looked to pass it forward.
CM: Hayley Ladd - 7/10 - Primarily shielded the back four but deserved a penalty when she was felled in the box right before half-time.
AM: Ella Toone - 9/10 - Played between the lines and made it difficult for defenders to track her movement, but also a willing runner beyond the ball to stretch the game when it needed it. Two assists for Galton's and Russo's goals.
RW: Nikita Parris - 6/10 - Played with good energy but the least impactful of of United's front four.
ST: Alessia Russo - 9/10 - Occupied the Villa centre-backs as a physical presence but was always ready to come short for important build-up play that made chances. Got her reward with a poacher's finish at the back post to make it 3-0.
LW: Leah Galton - 9/10 - Took United's second goal extremely well. Was a threat generally and had other opportunities throughout the game. Denied a legitimate fifth goal by a refereeing error blowing for a free-kick instead of playing advantage.
SUB: Martha Thomas (63' for Parris) - 7/10
SUB: Lucia Garcia (77' for Russo) - 6/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (85' for Galton) - 7/10
SUB: Vilde Boe Risa (85' for Toone) - N/A
Marc Skinner - 8/10 - Set up his team to attack with width to make the most of the spaces.
Aston Villa player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Hannah Hampton - 5/10 - Frist WSL appearance since September. Beaten multiple times but made a handful of other saves.
RB: Sarah Mayling - 4/10 - Consistently second best to Galton down that flank.
CB: Anna Patten - 4/10 - The movement of United's forwards was too much.
CB: Danielle Turner - 4/10 - Made a physical start to the game but was ultimately no match for Russo.
LB: Maz Pacheco - 4/10 - Struggled to cope defensively, with United continually building attacks down her flank. Also squandered a good chance at the other end.
CM: Laura Blindkilde - 5/10 - Lucky not to concede a penalty near the end of the first half.
CM: Rachel Corsie (c) - 4/10 - Struggled to keep Toone under wraps.
AM: Kenza Dali - 6/10 - Looked Villa's most likely source of danger from open play but didn't see enough of the ball to really make it count.
RW: Alisha Lehmann - 6/10 - Switched to the left relatively early to offer more of a test against Batlle on that side. Had Villa's first shot on target not long after. Again tested Earps later on.
ST: Rachel Daly - 5/10 - Too quiet in the first half and surprisingly declined an invitation to shoot from a good position in the second, opting to lay it off instead.
LW: Freya Gregory - 5/10 - Made more impact after swapping with Lehmann. Had a glorious first half chance that she didn't strike with enough conviction.
SUB: Emily Gielnik (58' for Gregory) - 5/10
SUB: Olivia McLoughlin (84' for Blindkilde) - N/A
Carla Ward - 6/10 - Took the decision to swap over her wingers early on and it did make a difference to the team's attacking threat. Ultimately he team lacked the quality to compete.