So we lost the match. That’s the first thing to get out of the way as when it’s all said and done, Manchester City were victorious and on paper that’s all that matters.
On paper though, Manchester City should have won the match perhaps by two or three goals – maybe more.
Manchester City are one of the most successful women’s teams in England over the last decade. Runners-up to Arsenal last season, they lost once in all domestic competitions to The Gunners themselves, whilst winning the other two domestic trophies, the SSE Women’s FA Cup and FA Women’s Continental League Cup. They have a quality squad and a lot of experience.
On the flipside of that, as we all know but need to remind ourselves, Casey Stoney’s Manchester United are in their second season of existence. This was their first official FA Women’s Super League match. I believe, as I think many other Reds do, that they performed admirably.
To be beaten by an unstoppable strike from Caroline Weir, to be agonizingly close to taking the lead in the first half through Jane Ross, to being inches away from drawing level through Jackie Groenen, to giving City a match that they probably didn’t expect to be so difficult and for them to work so hard to get the win, using every trick in the book and every bit of experience to tire out United and take the sting out of the match towards the end – it makes me proud to be a United fan. They fought until the end and that fight inspires me but also worries me as I look to some issues coming out of the match.
Analyzing the faults in the match from United’s perspective, potential deficiencies – it was worrying to see Mary Earps require treatment both in the first and second half. After the injuries to Fran Bentley and Emily Ramsey, with Siobhan Chamberlain missing in goal thankfully for happier reasons, I’m afraid that we may hear bad news soon about Earps, requiring emergency signing Aurora Mikalsen to step up in goal far sooner than expected.
Jess Sigsworth did exactly what I thought she would today in running her socks off but I think she won’t be entirely satisfied with her performance either. She needed treatment as well due to fatigue and looked heavy at certain stages, unable to keep tracking back and slow to react. For her, this is a big step up and her fitness, albeit in the first match of the season, and a massive one at that, was a bit worrying.
Lotta Okvist had an overall adequate match but sometimes may have made the wrong decisions in possession and was hooked on 56 minutes with United changing their system to a back-three in order to try and change the momentum of the game. It must be said that this change in the middle of the match didn’t really suit United.
In my preview to the match, I suggested United should opt for a 3-5-2 rather than the 4-3-3 Stoney initially went with, but whether due to City’s control or United’s inability to adapt mid-match, it looked like Amy Turner and Millie Turner struggled at times in the system.
On the bright side, Abbie McManus looks the part at the heart of United’s defence. Hayley Ladd, who I thought would line-up in midfield, came in at right back with Kirsty Smith and Martha Harris, our natural fullbacks, being left on the bench. In spite of Ladd’s position being earmarked at defensive midfield or centre-half, she did very well on the right side of the defensive unit and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her operate there more in the future in certain matches.
Jackie Groenen was tenacious in defence and attack and gave the kind of performance United fans were hoping for, with there being promise for more. Leah Galton tested City, especially in the first half, and Jane Ross came very close to scoring from her low cross that would have sent The Reds in the stands into raptures.
There is therefore reason for optimism. There is food for thought. The season won’t get easier with champions Arsenal being next on the list for United at Leigh Sports Village but I am now more confident than ever that we’re on the right path and that Casey Stoney is playing the way United should. We lost the match. We’ll win the future.