Man Utd have added the experience & depth they were missing in the WSL last season
Manchester United set out in this summer transfer window to address the weaknesses that saw them fall out of the WSL top three in the final weeks of last season and agonisingly miss out on Champions League qualification for the second year in a row.
Marc Skinner had minimal time to prepare last summer after being appointed only five weeks before the start of the new campaign, leaving Orlando Pride midway through their 2021 NWSL season.
It appeared to have a knock-on effect as United took a little time to find their rhythm. But even with a largely inherited squad, things came together more in the second half of the season as players became both more in tune with each other and his ideas.
United had the edge on Manchester City going into the final stretch but were unable to hold on. The difference was ultimately dropped points from winning positions as Skinner’s side failed to kill games off and conceded late goals in the final 15 minutes of five separate fixtures.
Two of those games – Tottenham and West Ham – saw stoppage time equalisers conceded. Another two – Arsenal and Manchester City – were against opponents reduced to 10 players. Meanwhile, United also failed to breakdown a resilient Aston Villa at a critical moment of the campaign.
Skinner insisted during the season that every single player in the United squad had his full trust, otherwise they wouldn’t be at the club. But it was also clear that he felt there was a lack of depth and attacking options to unlock stubborn defences.
United had lost a considerable amount of experience last summer and it was younger players who stepped up. Long before they played defining roles with England to win Euro 2022, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo were pulling the Red Devils forward aged just 22 and 23 respectively.
Skinner intended this summer to be about building depth for the sliding doors moments in games, giving himself more options and also padding the squad with the experience that was lacking.
In Adriana Leon, United have landed a versatile forward who won an Olympic gold medal last summer, has played extensively at the highest level in the United States and has the added benefit of pre-existing WSL experience thanks to two seasons with West Ham.
“I definitely have been through a few learning experiences, and it helps shape you as a person, helps grow your game and I definitely feel like it’s helped me progress as a player and as a person,” Leon told ManUtd.com in her first interview since arriving.
New centre-back Aissatou Tounkara was at Euro 2022 with France, has spent four years with Atletico Madrid and has previously played in the Champions League. Skinner particularly commented on the 27-year-old’s experience at the highest level when her signing was announced.
“She will offer vital Champions League and European competition experience to our younger players, and a real maturity to our all-round defensive play,” the boss said.
Nikita Parris, although underwhelming at Arsenal in difficult circumstances, scored 31 WSL goals in her final two seasons with Manchester City from 2017 to 2019 prior to being poached by Lyon and was the FWA footballer of the year for 2018/19.
Parris specifically mentioned swapping fourth place for third when she joined: 'With my winning mentality in matches and in training I want to help the team move forward. A lot of fourth-placed finishes and just missing out on those third spots, I now want to help the team grow.”
Rachel Williams knows the WSL inside out after spells with Birmingham, Notts County, Chelsea, Tottenham. Even if the 34-year-old gets minimal minutes on the pitch, she has different attributes and her experience could be a major guiding hand for younger players.
Skinner has spoken of the ‘wealth of experience and knowledge’ Williams has, “…she can help enhance the performance of individual players and the team. Her character will be a key part of the long-term vision to give us the tools for success.”
Lucia Garcia is an exciting proposition after impressing for Spain at Euro 2022 and had been on United’s radar for a number of months prior to the tournament. Like Leon and Parris, she offers versatility and competition in attacking positions.
Garcia’s ‘wonderful agility and 1v1 abilities’ – Skinner’s words – are skills arguably only matched elsewhere in the squad by Leah Galton, adding more vibrancy and directness for key moments.
Meanwhile, United have additionally captured Grace Clinton and Maya Le Tissier from Everton and Brighton respectively, players each considered among the best young talents in the WSL.
The talking has been done off the pitch, but the WSL promises to be more competitive than ever and the proof will now be in the pudding for Skinner and United as they look to realise their goals.
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