Manchester United manager Marc Skinner takes his team to London face Arsenal in the WSL on Saturday evening, with the game at the Emirates Stadium taking full advantage of the pause in top flight men’s football for the World Cup.
United go into this one off the back of defeat to Chelsea last time out, which ended their flawless start to the season and saw them slip from first place in the table to third. It was a tight game against the Blues that was ultimately decided by lapses in key moments.
There has been an international break since then, with England enjoying an unbeaten end to the calendar year with a squad featuring no fewer than six United players.
Skinner spoke to the media ahead of the Arsenal clash, with key topics including the injury status of Ona Batlle and Lucia Garcia, United’s record against the WSL big three, the fallout from the Chelsea defeat and Vilde Boe Risa after she admitted she could consider leaving the club.
Team news vs Arsenal
“Since the international players have come back in, I’ll touch wood, there have been no absentees. We have a full squad to pick from.
“Aoife [Mannion] will still be ready after Christmas I imagine, but she’s progressing nicely. She’s training with the team, albeit modified slightly.”
“They’re a very good team and we did put in two very good performances [against them last season], obviously took a point [in the WSL] and won in the [Conti] Cup. We’re showing progression. I know our fans are hungry for that progression to be right now and so are we.
“It’s a different venue, lots and lots of fans, so I expect a different game to the one we played last year but I still want to see that continued growth from our team. I see it in abundance… character, commitment, all of the things a coach wants.
“Now, I want us to produce that in the moments that really matter. That’s the next step for us, to perform as well as we can on a consistent basis in these types of games.
“We have to earn everything against Arsenal because they are a very good team. I want to make sure that we play with that Manchester United ethos and spirit in all these games coming up… some really big ones before Christmas. I want us to not fear or be scared of that and I don’t think we are.”
Getting results away from home
“There are always little markers we look for in our performances to make sure we are on task and on target. We need to be tight at one and make sure we create plenty at the other end. I think this is another game near the top of the table so it’s important that we try and keep clean sheets – I know we’re going to be tested at that this weekend.
“But what we need to do is make sure we show our personality with the ball that I know we have… and something we’re going to continue to work on this season to bring out.
“I’ll clarify what I mean by personality: it’s the constant bravery to perform in tight positions in 1v1s and win our duels against a very good team. That’s the great test for us and something I’ll continue to gauge us against as we go throughout the season.”
Coming off an international break
“It’s hard. We’ve got two sessions before we play. Every player has reported back. Some have had modified [sessions], some are in full training. We’ve been working on dripping individual parts throughout the week. Arsenal will be in the same boat.
“We both haven’t had our [full] teams for longer than two days. We know what we’re preparing for: [to play] a very energetic and lively team. We’ve got to stop them playing and exploit them with the ball.”
Break since Chelsea defeat – good or bad?
“Sometimes you need to feel it. There aren’t going to be many teams ever in existence of sport that go through an unbeaten season. I think you learn a lot from your wins, but also your losses, so it’s not a cliche to feel it.
“Against Chelsea, in moments, we weren’t good enough so we didn’t deserve to win the game. Up until we conceded two [goals in quick succession], we didn’t wake up properly. It was a pretty dull game. Sometimes, those big games need to be that and I wanted more from us. I think it’s okay to expect that from ourselves.
“I’m expecting us show how far we’ve come… that’s not a negative. That’s how we select our mindset here.
“We weren’t together [because of the international break] so we’ve only got two days to bounce into the Arsenal game. But, actually, learn from this [Chelsea] game. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to feel it.”
Progress against big clubs
“The bridging gaps are tiny at times. Sometimes, a player outruns you physically and creates a moment and take it. We have the quality to do that and we do it in a lot of games. We now need to take that into these games [against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City].
“Our third game last year was Chelsea and we lost 6-1. We went into this game and, barring lapses, we were right in the game. It’s not about taking those little positives, forget that. It’s about going into these games and saying, ‘If we don’t maximise these moments, you don’t win a game of football anyway’.
“We do that against every team, by the way, not just Arsenal and Chelsea. It is just when they have their quality moments, they can take them. The games will hopefully get tighter and we can show our quality to take those games. We need to take ownership and try force ourselves into those moments and take them.
“That’s where the best team lives, in those little brackets, and that’s where I want our team to live.”
Playing at the Emirates Stadium
“There’s 35,000 tickets [sold], I hear. It’s a really good test for a psyche in that environment. We’re trying to grow in these big moments to get as much experience as possible. It will be a great opportunity for us and everyone involved in some good games this weekend. While the [men’s] World Cup is on, it’s important we try and show our qualities to the best of our ability.
“It’s almost becoming normal to play in these big stadiums. That’s a big sign of where we’ve come already in terms of there’s more opportunity for us, as teams, to play in these venues. We don’t currently yet have these venues for ourselves. But that is something that should be in the future plan for women’s football in this country… to grow into those stadiums and those capacities.
“There is loads and loads of reported interest around the game, media has grown. So I think it’s a really positive example, but it’s really important that we capitalise on that as teams to show the best of ourselves when we are in these environment because we, for sure, want this to be the norm.”
Capitalising on Euro 2022 wave
“We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to platform and show everybody the qualities of our league, the staff and players. We have a wonderful window here where we can hopefully capitalise on the way they we perform.
“If we do that in this moment, we’re going to give ourselves a great foundation moving forward. It is important as teams that we put on performances everybody wants to watch too. We’re responsible.
“I want it to be more than a bum on a seat, I want them to keep coming back… I want a brain on a seat because I think they will love watching it. We can’t just put people in a stadium because it will just be like a library, we have to have people that want to be there to support what we’re doing on the field. It’s important we play our part in that.”
Vilde Boe Risa’s future
“I think she was a little bit misquoted and how it has been reported is maybe not as accurate as it seems. I’ve spoken to Vilde this morning and we’ve had a good meeting.
“I’ll be very clear: I absolutely value Vilde. I think she’s got lots and lots of qualities. But we’re aiming to be at the very top and what I’m asking [players] is to keep increasing their qualities, keep pushing, keep progressing…and Vilde knows that.
“I’ve been very clear to her with what we expect. We’ve got a good relationship, we’re very honest with each other, very up front. There’s no problem between me and Vilde and she has lots and lots of qualities that I’m hoping she can bring out in the next part [of the season].
“We all know what it’s like… you might not be playing for a certain period of games, [but] an opportunity comes, you take it and you run with it. Vilde has the qualities to do that, but we’ve been playing well, so there is nothing given to anyone in this team. You have to earn everything.
“We’re in a good space and have been very clear with each other in a positive manner, so there is no problem there.”
Maya Le Tissier’s England debut
“It’s a special moment to get your first appearance for your national team at senior level.
“There was a slight adaptation, obviously she played full-back for most of the game and moved to centre-back at the end. I felt that she had really good moments going forward that looked like the things we’ve been doing.
“But I’m going to give credit to a lot of the work she has done and that was done at Brighton with her. We picked her up, asked her to adapt, tried to increase the intensity and I think Sarina [Wiegman] has said it herself she’s very impressed with such a mature person and how much quality she when she’s preparing for game. We saw that talent in abundance.
“She’s a credit to her family, her country and her club.”
Protecting players from injury
“I’d be lying if [player overload] wasn’t a concern. I think there are other teams at this moment that have taken a bigger hit on injuries than we have currently. But we’re not without niggles ourselves.
“I think as women’s football grows and this becomes more of a consistent expectation on the players, we as a team have to make sure that we have active recovery that is way more in advance. Ours is pretty good.
“As that expectation [grows], the psychology of it becomes more of a norm. Player expectations of bouncing through a tournament in summer, going into a winter period and hard games and then going back into another tournament… once that becomes the norm it will probably balance itself out.
“But it’s really important that we continue to research and support our players because they are most important. We cannot stand still and put our players at risk.
“We’re pretty good as a club – if we feel a player is at risk, we don’t play them. Our physio team works really well with our doctors and the club support to make sure we try and look after them as best as possible.
“We’ve had a couple of injuries from this [international break] in our younger age groups. Part of our ethos going forward is to continue use the youth.
“We are all feeling it but we have to be part of the solution as well. I’m meeting with Sarina [Wiegman] in December to go through plans and strategies. With other national team managers, we just need to keep this line of open communication.”