Manchester United manager Marc Skinner addressed the media at a press conference on Wednesday ahead of his side’s weekend trip to Reading in the WSL.
The Red Devils will head to the Madejski Stadium off the back of a statement 6-0 win over Liverpool last time that left them second in the WSL and only three points off the top with a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
United thrashed the Royals 4-0 in the reverse fixture on the opening weekend of this season and will hope to keep up an impressive run that has seen them take maximum points in eight of 10 games and keep clean sheets against all but Chelsea and Arsenal so far.
The secret to that defensive record, the latest team news, Skinner’s own contract situation, dealing with Reading’s threats, keeping confidence high among fringe players and more were all up for discussion…
Team news & Leah Galton injury update
“She is progressing this week. It will be a late test going into this game, so we will see. If not, I would imagine she’ll be back for the Sunderland game [in the FA Cup].
“With something like this, we are very careful and cautious. We can afford to be with the depth that we have got. We don’t need to rush her. But if she passes that [test] and is available then of course we will look to put her into the squad.
“Apart from that, everybody else is fresh and available for selection.”
Impact of bad weather on training
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got heated pitches so we’re able to rotate onto those. Today, we’ve trained on our pitches anyway. It snowed but the sun had cleared it. We just moved on a little bit later.
"Apart from that, everything was fine – we trained on our pitches and I hope we do the same on Friday. We’re not in tomorrow.”
Planning for Reading’s late goals threats
“You have to look at the what game-type model you want for that game. If you look at the last time we played them at home, it was different than last year because we opened them up into a transition game. This year, it was much more about when you have control of the ball you can dictate the tempo and where it is.
“We know how savvy Kelly [Chambers] and Phil [Cousins] are in this league, the tactics they use. That’s why Reading are always competitive – it doesn’t matter what game or what results have gone before.
“What we’ve been better at this season is being able to adapt regardless. If we need to freshen up the front line, we can, to keep the press high. Sometimes you look at your strategy and it’s about the whole 90 minutes, not just trying to win the game in the first half, for example.
“We have wonderful forwards, but if they drop the energy for a second, a team like Reading can absolutely exploit that.
“We should prepare for different ways they will set up – they have played a three at the back before, a diamond [in midfield], so you have to have an adaptation to all of those. If we can dictate the tempo, I think we’ll put ourselves in the best position.”
Man Utd a draw for big attendances
“We have England players that everybody wants to see. Even the other day, there are Liverpool fans who wanted to see Tooney and Alessia, Mary and Keets.
“They come because they are fans of football, even though you are a fan of your team. It’s something you want to aspire to be. I think that’s a big draw…the types of players we have, the results, the excitement, and just our fanbase is huge too.
“We have to play our part in growing crowds, whether we are home or away. Away, it’s brilliant to see. Fair play to Reading, hopefully they can keep [growing crowds] for the rest of the season and it’s just against us, obviously Sunderland [in the FA Cup] as well.”
Scoring goals and boosting goal difference
“It’s always important. It’s important to win the game first. We will always try and score goals, look at how many different goalscorers we’ve had and the variety of goals we score.
"We don’t shut up shop. The last time we played Reading, we got a quick start and took our foot off the gas a little bit going into the second half…but Reading were better [in the second half]. Kelly and Phil are very wise and aware in how to set up a team and wouldn’t have been happy with that first half. They adapted it and we couldn’t find the ways through that we wanted.
“All these little things go into the concoction of how we performed but I think we’ve learned from then. It was first game [of the season].
“The pitch [on Sunday] is huge as well, so for us to exploit that – they can use it as well to their advantage – I just think we’re in a different space now and can hurt teams in first or second half.”
Man Utd’s defensive record
“In all honesty, it’s teamwork. There are different ways, different systems, some teams go from back to front very quickly and score goals, without having to really defend from the front. [But] my teams will always defend as a group, starting from Alessia [Russo] against Liverpool, all the way up.
“The way we structure our defence and organise ourselves, I just believe that as a team we function better. That is why we keep clean sheets, create so many chances and so many different goalscorers.
“Our team will never be about one star player, it will be a collective. We work hard at that, hard at pressing to gain the ball so we can play with the ball. When you keep the ball like we do, it’s always difficult for the other team to attack.
“It also comes down to – whether it has been Baggers [Sophie Baggaley] or Mary [Earps] – those key moments when you lose concentration, which is natural, they are there to stop it. Our defence is really solid, our positioning is excellent. I think all of those as a collective is a key.”
Keeping morale high for squad players
“Fans have their favourite players and that is their opinion. That is why we’re in this game. But the reality is when people perform really well, you would be crazy to change it for the sake of it.
“We see players every day in training, all week. Sometimes they have things going on personally, sometimes the don’t. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad. Sometimes they train effectively, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t really matter what you think, I go off objectivity and how we feel that we need to set up for the opponent.
“The way I keep them motivated is a really simple conversation. I speak to them: ‘This is what I expect, this is where you need to be, this person is playing well, this is how you can help yourself get into the team. By being open with them – after Christmas I have done a round of individual meetings, which can last up to an hour/hour and a half going through clips, through what we expect of each other. Listening to the player is really important as a coach.
“We want to keep winning and they want to be a be big part [of it]. If you saw the other day when we made the changes, they all came on and played a big part.
“We all know in football that you are one injury away from a starting place, so it is a very, very short time. I just want a really competitive team that we probably didn’t have last year. Be honest with them and they get it because they are clever people.”
Emily Ramsey’s future
“I think Rambo [on loan at Everton] has been excellent. What is clear is that her playing is helping. She has been more consistent. I was very clear when I met Rambo, with the idea of going out on loan, we see you as a future potential goalkeeper here.
“We’ve got England’s number one, which is obviously always difficult. Sophie Baggaley does an exceptional job when she comes in. But the reality is, we want to have a talent pool that pushes and progresses each other. The reason they stay on top of their form is because it is competitive.
“It’s not easy. But, at the minute, that’s the way you use the loan market effectively. For Rambo, it’s working well. It will be about balance and I will assess what the next part of the year looks like, but Mary is performing exceptionally so it is hard for all the goalkeepers. But they are all brilliant and they all work their socks off every day.”
Use of the loan market
“The reason we [send players on loan] is I absolutely see Grace [Clinton] as somebody we want here in the long-term. I think Chelsea use the same process where they sign the young player and loan them straight out. Sometimes, if you’re clever, to get the GBE points to get them in the country you have to sign and release and move.
“I want an ultra-competitive team. Look how everything is changing season on season, so we can’t stand still. Talented players will make us better, [but] if they are not ready now, they have got to be ready for the two or three seasons, so I’m trying to plan ahead with Polly [Bancroft] and the crew here to put us in a good position. If we do achieve what we want, we don’t stand still beyond that.
“We don’t want to be a flash in the pan. We want to play and prepare and that is why we are using the loan market right now. Our players are progressing and are happy they are playing. The rest of them that are here and staying with us, that is because they are ready for here and now.
“It is part of the process now. There are excellent players overseas that you just can’t get into the country. The points tallies [to secure players a GBE] is too high. We’re still protecting players – look how many English players we have got in our team. If we want our league to be the very best, we need to look at how the ceiling of the points is too high in my opinion.”
Skinner on his contract
“The whole reason we sign the [12 month] option is that’s in the club’s prerogative to do that.
“There are conversations, of course. If you know me, I’m very simple and straight over what I want to do, which is win here. I’m hoping that the qualities we’re putting out on the field, the consistency, the clean sheets, the goals, the way we perform, the fan growth, hopefully there are a lot of indicators as to why we should be here for a long time.
“I’m really easy on that – I trust the club wholeheartedly; I trust everything we do here.
“It’s not about me, it’s about this team and us being focused on what we’ve got to do, which is perform against Reading and try and take another win.”
Impact of potential Man Utd takeover
“I can only comment on the actions I see every day and the reality is we’re looking at investment and growth. We’re not looking at standing still right now. Even in this window we’re looking at the potential of bringing players in, so it’s not standing still.
“I don’t know about the ownership. What they do excellently here is they give you the information you need to know. For us, there are no distractions, we work hard on the field. I have no doubt whatsoever if our club does change hands in the future, then the women will be a key feature of what we’re doing at this club. We’ve just come way too far to turn around now.
“From all the conversations I have, it’s always about how we progress, never about how we move backwards. I would see that as a positive. Regardless of what happens with the ownership, we’re moving right now into a positive direction too. I am absolutely comfortable that we’re part of the club’s big plans going forward.”
How have Man Utd bridged the gap on the WSL’s big three?
“We spoke about it right at the end of last season. It was about belief.
“Losses set you up for future success if you learn from them. What we decided as a group is we’re not going to worry about the noise around us. It’s crazy how people are talking that Manchester City are building for next year and so on – they’re not, they’re right here, right now. We’re right here, right now…Chelsea are, Arsenal are, Tottenham are doing what they want to do. Look at West Ham, Aston Villa…Everton have snuck under the radar, what a great job Brian [Sorensen] has done.
“It’s about focusing on what we can control. Believe it or not, it alleviates pressure. This [Man Utd] badge weights heavy if you are not prepared for it. So when we bring players in, they are aware of that. All of the pressure that comes from outside, as long as you situate it where you want it, you just focus on what the next part is.
“We know we’ve got to give absolutely everything to beat Reading. We don’t ever think we are going to win something if we don’t earn it. That is the difference – we’ve had experience, we believe in each other and trust each other. That’s not all rosy, you have challenges and so on.
“We have done nothing yet. We know what we want to achieve here and we are absolutely fiercely ambitious.”
December Manager of the Month
“We have to put ourselves into the position to be nominated for those awards with good results. But our fanbase is huge and it goes on the vote, that helps a lot. Leah [Galton] was excellent so she absolute deserved the [Player of the Month] award.
“It means the world but doesn’t mean a lot in terms of how we’re focusing. I would swap all of the [individual] awards for winning a title with this club. The personal accolades don’t mean that much to me other than we are moving in the right direction and progressing as we want to.
“We just get down to work. What else can we do? Work and win games of football, if you do that you have a chance of being nominated.
“When I was at Birmingham, I remember beating Arsenal 3-0 and beating Manchester City. Because we couldn’t put those back-to-back, I never won manager of the month at Birmingham. Yet we overachieved because we had the worst budget.
"Since I’ve come here with our fanbase and the great players we have, I think that is the fourth one I’ve achieved here. It is crazy how times change.”
Working with Leah Galton
“She is honestly brilliant. The girl that you see is exactly the girl that we see in training.
“I’m a big fan of tattoos and she has some wonderful artwork – she can sometimes look more menacing than she actually is. But when she comes onto the field with the ball, I genuinely would hate to play against her. She can show you where she is going and still get there. She is aggressive with and without the ball, presses well and moves exceptionally well.
“She is one of the best players in this league. With [Guro] Reiten and Lauren Hemp, there are some really talented left-sided players, but Leah, for me, absolutely sits at the very top. She is humble, hard-working, wants to get better and improve. I have no more superlatives.”