Manchester United travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday to open what promises to be a landmark 2022/23 WSL season in the wake of an unprecedented and triumphant Euro 2022.
United boss Marc Skinner addressed a number of key topics at his pre-match press conference on Thursday afternoon, which fell on the same day as the WSL transfer deadline.
Questions directed at Skinner included teams news for the game, the club’s Champions League ambitions, contract talks, Nikita Parris, Alessia Russo, Millie Turner and more.
“We’re still trying to do work for the winter window and the summer window next year. We’ve had seven in, that’s quite a lot, but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped working. Hopefully we can do some work in those windows too.
“Kirsty [Hanson] has gone out today for the whole reason that we want Kirsty to continue to progress with constant minutes. She can be a wonderful, wonderful asset, I’ve got nothing but high regards for her. But I need her to play and I want to her to get those consistent minutes.
“I’ve made the front line very competitive this year. We faced so many different challenges last year where we had high lines, quite a lot of blocks…so I need different ways to exploit the opponent when they go into a block. I’ve recruited enough skillsets to be able to unlock different scenarios.
“Going out, no one [except Hanson] is going out [before the deadline].
“Everybody is training barring Adriana [Leon] and Rach [Williams]. Rach has picked up a knock in training where she went full blooded into a tackle and just took a knock on her knee.
“Apart from that, Adriana is on a flight back from Australia. Those are the only players not ready to feature [in training] today. Adriana hopefully comes in [on Friday] and is fresh and can be considered for the squad on the weekend.
“[Williams] hyperextended her knee and just needs a rest period, probably looking at about three or four weeks and then she’ll be ready. There’s no permanent damage, it’s just as Rachel Williams does and the whole [reason] we signed her as well, she went full-blooded into a tackle and just hyperextended her knee. She just needs a little bit of time to heal. We’re not in any rush, it’s going to be a long season.”
“There’s meant to be massive crowd for the game against us. So that will be amazing. I was at some of the final games [at Euro 2022] and to feel the crowds…I think women’s football brings an amazing energy so I’m looking forward to putting our new look team out this season in front of hopefully a packed stadium.”
“We’ve not been lazy in our recruitment…in fact the opposite of that. But there’s been changes in other teams as well, whether they see that as good or bad work, and you really don’t know until the season gets started.
“The whole reason we’ve recruited is to [finish in the top three]. If you look at our last three finishes [all fourth]. Regardless of our recruitment, we have to have an exceptional season, because in the last five seasons no one has broken into that top three. We have to prepare ourselves to have an exceptional season, but the preparation to try and break into that top three.
“We’re going to go game by game again because you maximise the best potential out of games when you do that. But [Champions League qualification] is the plan, of course it is, we can’t hide that here. We can’t sit at Manchester United and go ‘we want to finish fourth again’, no.”
“It doesn’t matter. There is nobody from an outside source who will put more pressure on themselves than these players. I set the bar very high in here in terms of what we want to achieve, but I’m also very realistic and I think that’s a nice balance.
“We want pressure. The [England] girls in the summer dealt with immense pressure but in a really positive way, so we can use that. Is there pressure? We want to be in those top places, but we’ve got to be exceptional. It’s not an easy task, there are no gimmes.
“The pressure for me should be thriving under pressure. If you lose a game at Manchester United it can be the end of the world so I’m ready to deal with that pressure. I’m here to give my players the freedom to express themselves and use that pressure as a positive rather than a negative.”
“The whole reason for the recruitment strategy this year was to add varied experience to our lineup so that you have players who have played in big moments. We have got a lot of wonderfully young and talented players here, but sometimes you just need a bit of experience in there as well.
“What better experience to win a tournament in this country. Every team is getting closer to each other, so you need big players in big moments. That’s what I hope the [Euro 2022] girls will offer. I know from watching in training that they’re ready for that. We have to compete for titles and trophies…we make no bones about that.
“What we have to be clear on is that’s not a gimme in any situation in this league. You ask Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City the same, it’s not a gimme, you’ve got to work hard everyday to do that. Our aim is to do that, with the added experienced I think will add a lot of quality.”
“Nikita came from a place where she didn’t get as much playing time as she wanted. Change the context, change player…so nothing that Arsenal did that was negative. But actually coming into this environment, the whole reason we selected Nikita and wanted her in was she’s probably got the best movement in the league in a forward position – her movement is unbelievable.
“Teams will give you chances to invade back-lines, so it’s about her being able to be used slightly different. Everyone talks about confidence, I prefer to talk in evidence, so for our players to breathe confidence they have to evidence of that performance and so that’s why we train. What I’ve seen from Nikita so far is the vibrancy and energy of full-blooded fire.
“When we recruited her she talked about ice in her eyes and fire in her belly and she said that she had kind of lost that…well I’ve already seen loads and loads of signs of that. She’ll be a really key addition to what we do, as will the other players. I’m sure you’ll see the very best of Nikita this year.”
“We are working behind the scenes. There is never a quick fix moment for any contract conversation. It’s a much more complex than a quick decision. We are working towards making sure we secure the players that we want.
“This club is never at a standstill, so we are looking at the next windows to recruit players as well. We’re looking to evolve this squad but at this moment those talks are continuing. But it’s never simple. Nothing is imminent, but those conversations are continuing.
“I can reassure the fans that regardless of where we are currently with those contract situations, our club is looking above and beyond with additions as well. So we are going to keep progressing this squad to reach where we want to reach. We’re in safe hands in that.
“Every player can be available at any point if everything is met at the right time. What I’m trying to stress there is, we are going to make sure that if players sign contracts, brilliant, if they don’t sign contracts, we’ll have people in places that our club will not stand still and always keep progressing.”
“Alessia was excellent in key defining moments of games in the Euros, so she has shown a lot of maturity and growth there. She’s such a level headed person and has clearly explained that she has got lots to learn still.
“For me, Alessia is absolutely a ‘number nine’ but has the ability to play in any one of our front positions at any moment. I think she is one of the best in terms of back to [goal], control and touch on the move, and can really isolate any defender that tries to come and play against her. I’d still like her to be more in the box because I think she could score even more goals than she currently is.
“I don’t want to get caught short this year. One of my gripes last year was we couldn’t really adapt the front line that effectively, so if a team banked up against us we [still] had to play the same kind of way. Why I recruited all these forwards, now we’ve got players who can invade spaces, players who can go 1v1, players you can deliver to in the box, if I want to play two forwards I can, or three with two wide I can. It’s just having a variance. What that is going to do for Alessia is challenge her to be at her very, very best. Everybody wants that because she’s an unbelievably talented player.
“My job as a coach is to make she keep meeting her potential, keeps focusing, keeps scoring goals. But there is no doubt, we as Manchester United want to play a massive part in the development of Alessia Russo. These players have played continuously and there has been no mental break, so at some point, having this [depth] allows Alessia to focus and just breathe.
“We’re going to go into a World Cup at the end of this year. These players need protecting as well. That’s why we went big [in recruiting forwards], so we can keep winning games and then put the players in at right times. [Russo] will be a key part of that, I’ve no doubt about that.”
“They’ll definitely be in training. I’ve been really impressed and now Charlotte [Healy] works up with us in the first-team staff as well to really manage and integrate. All of the loan players will have a dedicated person to make sure they see all their progressions so even when I can’t watch every single minute.
“Charlotte will help me plan all of that and she’ll also make sure that as we run the academy we’ll have integration so it’s a seamless approach. I thought the girls were excellent, so that’s what brought them away with us and it was just a gimmicky thing. It was, ‘let’s embed you and put you in and see where you’re at’, and I was really impressed.
“You’ll hopefully see them feature in games this season too.”
“We’ve had the [England] girls in for about 10 sessions. I’ve seen the same people with just smiles galore, which you can imagine. Honestly, we won’t know [the impact] until we get into the season.
“My job is to know when to take them out, when to give them a break, when to ride the wave they’re on. That’s got to be my balance, to protect them when they need protecting, but let them fly when they can. All I’ve felt so far is positive energy and that has transmitted to everyone in the squad, so it is a real positive vibe for I’m pretty sure everyone in the league.”
“She’s a really bubbly character. She’s brilliant. Millie, last year, in all honesty started the season not as focused as I would have wanted her. She picked up an injury, had personal things happening in her life and of course had the valve issue.
“It really grounded her, I thought she was magnificent and I’ve really missed having Millie on the field. All credit to the medical staff, the doctor for picking it up. She’d worked so hard to get better…she’s our fittest player right now on all the tests.
“It’s a credit to her and when you don’t have someone smiling like her…her smile lights up the room. As a person, as a player, it is like a new signing and it’s great to have her back.”