Manchester United Women

Man Utd already showing key signs of improvement after flying WSL start

Jamie Spencer
Man Utd beat West Ham in the WSL after struggling in the same fixture last season
Man Utd beat West Ham in the WSL after struggling in the same fixture last season / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Manchester United fell short in their efforts to finish in the WSL top three last season because too often they were unable to kill games off.

Marc Skinner’s side were five points adrift of third place in the final standings, narrowly costing the club a place in the Champions League for the second season running.

Late equalisers in the final 15 minutes of games against Everton, Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and Manchester City cost United 10 points from winning positions. In those games, Arsenal and City had been reduced to 10 players, while Tottenham and West Ham equalised in stoppage time.

On top of that, United also failed to break down a resilient Aston Villa in the closing stages of the season, drawing 0-0 in a game they were heavy favourites to win.

Throughout the second half of last season, Skinner was very up front about the need to recruit well during the summer to ensure United always had sufficient attacking options and depth to successfully kill games off or beat compact defences and low blocks.

Two games into 2022/23 and the signs of improvement in those key areas are clear to see. So far, United have blown Reading away in the first 35 minutes of a game and beaten West Ham by two goals in a fixture that also served to exorcise some demons from last season.

Last season away at West Ham, United went ahead early in the second half but couldn’t build on that lead and it left them exposed to then conceding in the dying moments.

This time, Lucia Garcia’s clinical opener that saw the new arrival from Spain round the goalkeeper and impressively finish from a narrow angle was almost immediately added to by Hannah Blundell, who calmly guided the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area.

That was the critical thing that United didn’t do enough last season when it really mattered.

Garcia in particular has characterised the way United have got better since last season in that respect, providing a different kind of vital skillset to other players in the squad.

“She’s wonderful. She attacks lines,” Skinner told club media after Sunday’s win – United’s first away day victory in London since beating West Ham in October 2020.

“Just the tenacity to get beyond [Hawa] Cissoko, who is a very tough defender, and then take it round the goalkeeper, then finish. She’s just so nimble, she’s unbelievable.”

As Skinner put his own stamp on the squad, United let Ivana Fuso join Bayer Leverkusen on loan and Kirsty Hanson head to Aston Villa, but brought in Garcia as well as veteran number nine Rachel Williams, Canadian winger Adriana Leon and wide forward Nikita Parris.

“If we face a deep block, we’ve got to have a different way of overcoming it, or a different way of strategizing against a counter attack to the win game. All of my forwards are important," the United boss said just last week.

It all formed part of a specific strategy aimed at getting United into the Champions League.

Skinner and his team will face tougher opposition this season than they have played so far. But it has been the perfect start that provides a solid foundation and momentum for what will come.

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