Manchester United head into Sunday’s WSL clash with West Ham looking to build on a thumping win over Reading last Saturday in what ended up being the opening weekend of the season.
Manager Marc Skinner faced the media to field more questions on Friday, addressing topics from the latest team news, what can be expected from the Hammers, the support he gets from the senior club hierarchy, what fans can expect from Rachel Williams, WSL ticket sales and more.
“Currently, Grace Clinton may be out this weekend. She picked up a little cold in the week and has missed a couple of days’ training, so just for balance and safety for her.
“Rach [Williams], we’re probably looking at another two or three weeks and then she’ll be ready, but she’s doing rehab on the grass now.
“Aoife [Mannion], I think we’re probably looking at game-ready in January, but she’s progressing really nicely and has been excellent in her rehab, so positive news on that. She’s ready when she’s ready, but it’s looking positive in terms of her reaction to the training.”
“Paul [Konchesky] was there last there last year with Olli [Harder] so we got to speak to Paul as well. They picked up a great win [last weekend] – I actually think Everton were dangerous in the game, but West Ham were ruthless.
“They were really attacking down the sides, a little bit direct at times, but that’s not a negative…they’re really good at it – Dagny [Brynjarsdottir] is really good in the air. I thought their forward line looked bright and dangerous. In their back-line…[Hawa] Cissoko is very good in the one-v-one areas, Lucy [Parker] builds up a little bit better with the ball but has great ability.
“I think they’re good. I have no doubt, we have to be on our mettle against them. We went there last year and obviously took a draw from it – horrific weather conditions – but we have to go there and play a very tough team at their home ground. We have to be very good to win the game.
“It was the single points from draws that let us down last year. There’s always a good or bad draw if that makes sense – if you dominate the game and draw, it feels like a bad point, but if you just grab a draw at the end it turns into a good point.
“For us, what was nice and I saw in practice against Reading was when we got into the second half after being very dominant in the first half and Reading shut the shop and weren’t going to let us having anything in the second half, we were able to introduce equally as good talent coming off the bench in different ways. We could do it early enough to give them a good run of the game and be bright and inventive. What that does allow us is to attack the game in different ways.
“We have a couple of game models we could use against West Ham – if we start with one we could adapt to another, but it’s what the opponent gives you on the day and we’ve got to take advantage of that. I feel we’re in a better space this year to be able to score goals.
“We blew Reading away in 35 minutes. I’m not expecting that every week, but you have to be relevant throughout the whole of the game and I think that’s going to be one of our key aspects.”
“We will always be supported here as a women’s team. I thoroughly believe that. We’ve got a meeting with the leadership group, John [Murtough] (football director) and so on later today, to discuss and have an open dialogue about things that affect us [as a women’s team] the whole club.
“John and Andy O’Boyle (deputy football director) were over watching the training session today. Steve McClaren (men’s assistant manager) was over the other day watching. We have that constant interaction and I have constant meetings with Andy and John, so I feel the support is absolute. It can only help us go from strength to strength, I’ve no doubt about that.”
“I know what it’s like to come into a club of Manchester United’s size and his is just magnified a little bit more. He needs time to get his job right. We have interacted, of course we have…we can go over [to interact with the men’s setup] at any point – but for me personally, I know how hard it is for him to just focus on his job and all the things he has to manage, so giving him the time to do that is paramount.
“I’m welcome whenever, I know that. Just my personal preference at the minute is to allow him to do his job.”
“We used to do it at Birmingham. We’ve done it in Orlando. I think at the minute, we have a competitive squad that can manage right now against each other. But we haven’t ruled it out.
“Nick [Cox], our academy leader, is magnificent, forward thinking. We could do that, it’s just when and if we need it and at what time. Our boys have a lot of busy schedules as well, so if we can fit it in and need to use it as a tool, we can absolutely utilise that.”
“We’ll catch up later with the players. In training, they’ve been great. The news broke yesterday but I will be speaking to them at some point later on today.
“They’ve been excellent in training, really, really good, and that’s our focus. We’re here to control what we can control and that’s the game against West Ham and the girls have been excellent – as they always are – so I’ve seen no difference.”
“It’s about 50,000 tickets sold for the north London derby? That shows it alone. It’s that growth and the interest in the women’s game is continuing to grow. For us, it’s great to have [over 5,000 fans for the Reading game] and we felt every single one of our fans last week, so it was a really great experience for us. We’ll only see in the weeks to come and going into the winter period.
“We’re very clear, as a club we have to continue to support that behind the scenes, but as a team we have to keep putting a product on the pitch that our fans want to come back to watch. Hopefully they felt last week that we did that – keep fighting and showing all the spirit of a Manchester United team. Each team has a different expectation from their fans.
“At Manchester United, we have to be entertaining, show our full commitment and spirit, and that’s our product to own. We’ve got to keep doing that and keep growing off the field so our fans keep coming back.”
“I’m not sure [Chelsea and Manchester City] are going to say last weekend was good. But it shows the quality. For us, it was a really good warning without us physically taking that warning.
“I felt Chelsea were good in their game, I felt Manchester City were very good at times as well – obviously Aston Villa and Liverpool were too. It shows the gap is shortening. But there is really interesting focus points within it of styles of football and I think Emma Hayes spoke about it playing against a deep block – Liverpool are very effective at a deep block counter and that’s a great tool for them. But the expectation of different clubs are you have to do it a certain way.
“As a Manchester United team, we have to try and be front-footed and win the game and be aggressive. It shows there are many styles coming through and that’s going to be very, very challenging as a coach to keep stepping up, but that’s what we’re here to do.”
“She very much has the core values of the person that we want at Manchester United. That hasn’t changed from the first time I met her at Birmingham. She gives absolutely everything physically and mentally. Sometimes games are about attrition and it’s not always about the beauty of the game or technical ability. Sometimes it’s about putting yourself in a place where you will get hurt.
“I remember her debut for Birmingham when I first came there, we played Arsenal, and we put two ball into the box for her and she actually got concussion in the game because she put her head between the goalkeeper and defender to score a goal – she scored two on her debut.
“That, for me, kind of sums up her character. She’ll put her body on the line for the team. I’ve got many varying forward abilities [in the squad], but I need them.
“If we face a deep block, we’ve got to have a different way of overcoming it, or a different way of strategizing against a counter attack to the win game. All of my forwards are important.
“But what Rachel will give us is when we need moments of playing little bit more direct. She adds a lot of personality to our group too. She’s not scared of anything and it’s a really key attribute.
“We’re going to come against games where we need to win and you need players to step up and take responsibility in the moments where they can’t hear you in front of 50,000 fans. I feel that Rachel will do that and everyone will see that.”