Manchester United put a winning start in the WSL to one side this weekend as they divert attention to the start of this season's Continental Cup, kicking off the group stage with Saturday's away trip to an Aston Villa side that has started the 2022/23 campaign in similarly excellent form.
United boss Marc Skinner faced the media on Thursday, with team rotation, the importance of the club winning a domestic trophy to best prepare them for longer-term ambitions, his thoughts on Aston Villa, Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as Maya Le Tissier's international prospects.
Team news vs Aston Villa
“We’re definitely going to have some changes. But we have a lot of players now who would want to start in our team and have a lot of quality. Part of the recruitment in the summer was to give us the depth needed to compete in cup and league, more than we could last year.
“There will be some changes, but nothing is a gimme…the players are earning their right to play. There will be some adaptations but the themes and the principles will remain the same in the way we play. This is going to be a tough opponent so we’re not going to take our foot off the gas at all.
“Only Rach [Williams] and Aoife [Mannion] at the moment. Rach should be back in training next week, which is great, in the international break [and] gets her back with the team. She’ll be good after that. Aoife is progressing nicely, should hopefully see her in the New Year, but she will be progressing with the team before Christmas.
“They’re both doing well and the medical team are doing good jobs.
“[Williams is] back doing individual ramping up now. Our physio will do a lot of individual parts but really push her. [Recovering players] go above and beyond our training schedule so that when they come in, they come back into uncontrolled play.
“She’ll be ready next week and obviously we’ll welcome her qualities and her character back in. Hopefully then, coming into the game against Brighton [after the international break], we can then look at maybe her being in the squad and around the team.”
Chasing a domestic trophy
“We can’t forget that. Everyone thinks money is a shortcut…it’s not. Experience is the shortcut.
“We’re trying to get as many different experiences and then you’ve got to gel them as a team. Look, we started the first two games really well – we’ve been dominant in both. You’re always going to have people say, ‘Oh, you should have done well’.
“That’s not right at all. The teams that we’ve played, Reading and West Ham, are very difficult teams to play against on their day, so Villa is exactly the same. Us, as a group, need to make sure we stay on top of ourselves. There’s a lot of noise around, you can feel the noise around the WSL, but we have to stay focused and that is what we can control.
“The more we distract ourselves with things outside, the less we’ll be the team we want to be. So I’ll just make sure we stay focused on the next task, which is a very difficult Villa team.”
Thoughts on Aston Villa
“It's tough. I watched [Aston Villa’s] Man City game and though they were excellent in the press. I thought City played into their press a little bit at times and I felt when City went a little bit more direct behind them they give Villa a lot more problems in the second half.
“But they’re organised – I think they were organised last year – but with Rachel Daly and Kenza Dali, they’ve [now] got players in there with that quality on the ball as well. I like the signings they’ve made – Dan Turner adds a lot of quality on the left side at the back as well.
“I think Villa have done good work. If you’re playing against a team that is chasing top four, the first couple of games [of the season] is probably the best time to play them because they’re not in rhythm. Villa took full advantage of that with some really good play against Manchester City.
“You watch the Leicester game and Leicester were in that game. It was a difficult kind of one and I think Carla [Ward] said it was 90 minutes she’ll never get back.
“For us, we just have to try and be dominant with the ball as much as we can, recognise the real dangerous threats they do have this time. But, really, just judge against ourselves.
“I think it’s going to be a very difficult game. We’re going away again…it was tough there last year and I felt we should have won the game. What we have to do is make sure that we’re firing and I think, as much respect we have for the opponent and always will have, we have to perform for us.
“If we do that, whether it’s Villa or anyone else that we play, we can cause loads and loads of problems. But I expect a really tough game.
“Expect a tough opponent at a tough venue, but that’ what we’re here to challenge. West Ham was a tough game and we made Reading look easy, but they’re a tough opponent. It was all credit to us and we have to do that again.”
Chelsea & Man City struggling; changing expectations on Man Utd
“I watched the [Chelsea] game yesterday and West Ham are very tough to play against. What I’d say is West Ham have played two games at home and one at Kingsmeadow and they’re both quite small grounds…quite tight pitches. It just took Chelsea a little bit of time to get going.
“But we know the quality that they have and that Manchester City have.
“For us, again, we’re just focusing on what we can do. Once your biggest rival is yourself, I think you can never really switch off and that’s where we have to be – in the mindset where we’re not worried [about other teams]. If you worry about what the opponent do, when you play them you don’t perform to the best of your ability.
“I’m going to be very clear this year: we have to perform to the best of our ability against ourselves. That’s why I added competition in because now we have players that you’ve got challenge yourself against in training. Every day, we’ve got to be challenged, rather than just in certain games or moments.
Maya Le Tissier not getting called up by England
“She’s been wonderful. But Maya hasn’t said anything to me [about it]. That’s the type of girl she is…she’s not expectant one bit. She will work hard.
“When, and I believe it will be when Sarina [Wiegman] calls upon her, she will be ready. She’s an ultimate professional for someone who’s so, so young. Again, I’ll be very clear, I’m going to protect her in the good, the bad and the indifferent times.
“We are here to make the best people and the best players and she’s definitely one of them. Our players are quite humble, they just get down to work and we want our football to do the talking for selection.
“I know we’ve talked about how important the summer was, but there’s a lot more club game work than there is international work and I sometimes think the balance is flipped to high impact on the international stage. Well, actually, there is a lot more work that has to go into what we do on the ground every day. I think the players commit everything to the club and that’s exactly how it should be.”