Manchester United Women

Man Utd have three 'cup finals' between them and Women's Champions League

Jamie Spencer
Man Utd are battling to finish in the WSL top three for the first time
Man Utd are battling to finish in the WSL top three for the first time / Jan Kruger/GettyImages

Manchester United are back in action on Sunday after what feels like an eternity since their most recent WSL fixture against Brighton at the start of the month.

United have just three games left this season, starting with a weekend trip to Aston Villa – the first of what are now essentially ‘cup finals’ as they continue to try and fend off Manchester City in the battle for the WSL’s third and final Champions League place.

Three points separate the rivals in the table, with City also to play a game in hand against Birmingham in the final week of the campaign. United have a superior goal difference by three, which could yet swing or be a critical factor come the final day.

Having fallen to fourth last season, United are seeking to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Not only would it be a lucrative financial boost and sporting badge of honour, it would also make the club more attractive to prospective new signings and existing stars in contract talks.

But it won’t happen unless the team can make it happen in the remainder of the season.

United cannot rely on City dropping points to make the job any easier. City’s woeful start to the campaign is long behind them – they have won their last five in a row and haven’t dropped points against a team below them in the table since losing to West Ham in October.

City do still have to get over the line themselves, but the expectation is they will win their next three games, all at home, against Leicester, Brighton and Birmingham. Then it is an inconsistent Reading away on the final day of the season on 8 May.

Brighton have become a bit of a bogey side for Chelsea, but City thrashed them 6-0 in January. Reading also pose a potential threat but have rather lost their way since February.

“I really don’t care what Manchester City do,” has been United manager Marc Skinner’s consistent message over the last couple of months amid the increasingly tense race.

“They’re a brilliant team and will do what they’re going to do, so they can look after themselves.”

His assessment is blunt but correct. There is nothing that Skinner or United can do about City’s results because the only thing they can control is their own.

If the first of three ‘cup finals’ for United is against Villa, the next is against West Ham, the side that dented their Champions League hopes with a late equaliser in March, and Chelsea.

United will be expecting to keep the form that has seen them win four of their last five WSL games – it would have been five from five but for that aforementioned 92nd minute blow from West Ham. That potentially puts everything on a final day showdown away at Chelsea, although Skinner would be the first to remind you that it won’t matter if they don’t do their job in the games beforehand.

The players themselves are gearing up the challenge that lies in front of them, embracing it.

“Ready for a big month ahead,” was Alessia Russo’s battle cry on Instagram this week.

Russo, along with Ella Toone, Leah Galton and Martha Thomas, has been in top form over the last couple of months.

As they travel to the west Midlands at the weekend, United will also be hopeful of returning to a more normal system with Diane Caldwell expected to be available after injury – her absence on top of existing missing defenders forced Hayley Ladd into the back four in recent matches, which had the knock-on effect of losing her influence in midfield.

United have the chance to play in the Champions League within close reach. But, for now, it has to be the old cliché of one game at a time. Win these three ‘cup finals’ and their dreams come true.

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