Manchester United host Chelsea in the WSL on Sunday in what is arguably the biggest game of the season so far, as the early league leaders take on the back-to-back-to-back reigning champions.
Marc Skinner has seen the wins (in the WSL at least) flow over the last couple of months, giving United a really strong foundation already in their pursuit of Champions League football.
But Chelsea will be like no other team they have played so far and is a huge but vital test.
This is what Skinner had to say ahead of the game in a lengthy press conference…
How is Ona Batlle & any injuries to report?
“Ona was back in training with the squad today, stepping up individually as well. So she could be in contention for the weekend too. Apart from that only Aoife [Mannion] is currently out and everyone else is up for selection.”
Is Chelsea the first real test of the season?
“I think it’s a bit disrespectful to any of the teams that we’ve played to say that we’ve not been tested so far. We have to beat the teams in front of you. So that’s all we can try and do.
“There’s no doubt that Chelsea are historically the best team in this country, especially in this era. We know how difficult this is going to be. I’m trying to now get our team into the mood and the mindset of…these big games come around and if you want to be part of the big conversations then you have to perform. For us, it’s going to be that expectation that we put our best performances out, and if you don’t, you don’t win these games.
“It’s a calmness but we have to choose our mindset carefully because we have to be prepared to be resilient in this moment, to be energetic. And if we get that from this team going into this game, it will put it in the best stead to get a result.”
What have you learned since losing 6-1 against Chelsea last season?
“Sometimes you have to take those punches to understand and know exactly where you are. For us, it was a devastating result, of course. But what I would say is it was our third game and Chelsea were ruthless on the day, which we know they can be.
“I still think in that game, when I recall, we had the most touches in Chelsea’s half and box of any team in a long time at that point.
“We’re well aware of [Chelsea’s] goal threat and we’re a totally different team. But what I want us to do is show that. It’s all well and good me talking here. I want my team to show their maturity and energy in this game. We know how difficult a task they are with some wonderful players. As I say, probably the best team in the WSL. But I think it’s for us to now really go on and choose how we compose ourselves. A key phrase to be confident, not complacent. I think that’s really key for us.”
How do you keep a clean sheet against Chelsea?
“Not to play it down, but you’re going to need some luck as well. Chelsea have some world class forwards, as obviously we do. We’re going to need some moments of luck, we’re going to need the ball to fall for us at times.
“We’re going to need to rely on the really good defending that we’ve had, as a team, not just the backline. We’re going to need to rely on obviously Mary. There’s going to be a lot of factors in it. This is a this is an excellent team playing against.
“In every game, we have given up opportunities to the opponent and we have had to call on Mary. We know Chelsea can create opportunities. We’ve got to do our best to stop them. I think it’ll be a real team effort if we’re to take the points and especially keep a clean sheet in this game.”
Can you dominate a game against Chelsea yet?
“We are we are evolving. We are finding different ways to score and play the game. I’d still say those teams [Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City] have years and years and experience on us, but that can’t be an excuse for us, right? We can’t sit here and make that an excuse.
“We’ve got to find ways in this game to deny them the opportunity to score like they can do and we’ve got to find ways to really kind of try and test their backline.
“There will be spaces on the field, no doubt about it. When you watch Chelsea at home, they are magnificent. They’re really hard to beat and the pitch is really tight. They can get those connections sometimes when you are on a bigger pitch, you lose those connections and that’s why I’m hoping they lose within this game. But what we have to do is. focus solely on the game plan, the strategy and then really the game might adapt, so we’ve got to be ready to adapt with the game.
“I’d like us to dominate these games, but I’d be stupid to think that that’s what happens in these types of games. I look at Chelsea’s game against Man City earlier in the season. I think Chelsea dominated the first half, Man City got back into the second half and should’ve scored. I just hope we have energy and resilience and then we put everything out and there for our fans, you know, everybody enjoys the spectacle.”
What does it mean to have sold 8,000 tickets & all of Leigh Sports Village open?
“Genuinely, our fans you can hear away from home as well. But to have that at home is wonderful and our players have been excellent at home and our form is, is outstanding. So we need to try and keep up on Sunday.
“I’ve always found, wherever I’ve been, the Manchester United fans to be just so energetic, so vibrant, and we need to bring that energy. We are inspiring the next generation, all of the players in this league, all of the coaches, all of the staff.
“I think it’s important that we give [the fans] something. At times, they’re our energy but we’re a spark for their energy. And I think that’s what we need in this game.”
Does a late 6:45pm kick-off have any bearing on preparations?
“It’s too early in the season anyway, to be honest, for us to look at anything like [kick-off times making a difference]. But what I’d stress is our focus should be on our game not on anybody else’s. It might be a little distraction for the moment. But if we’re playing in the ‘Arsenal slot’ then we need to make sure that we perform and put out the best of ourselves in front of everyone on TV.
“Hopefully a big crowd. We’re up to about 8,000 [tickets sold] at Leigh at the moment, so that’s going to be great because our fans are special and energetic and obviously give us that extra energy that I’m asking for. So it will be a good space. We are just focused on what we have to try and do against Chelsea. There’s no other way for us to be.”
Can Man Utd be considered title contenders?
“We aspire to be that. We like to be talked in that in that kind of space. I’m a big believer in evidence of that. So, as I say, there’s a lot of respect due to the team for what we’ve done in the first five games. But again, we’ve got to step up against the opponent that is the best team, historically, in this in this league. I want evidence from my team. I want to see maturity.
“Do I think that we are on a consistent basis right there yet? When I picked this up, are we where I want us to be? Are we at the end of that? No, we’re not, we’re really not. That’s my honesty, but we are growing and I’ve seen a lot of maturity from us and development in the ways we can score.
“I think a beautiful stat for us is how many different goalscorers we’ve had because I think that shows that once you stop one danger, we can score from another aspect and we score goals.
“We want to be talked about up there [as title challengers], but we’ve got to earn that right. So we’ve got a lot more to do. But it’s nice at the moment to be considered there. And that’s why we want to be considered, because we want to win things.”
Can you say ‘I told you so’ to people underwhelmed by summer business?
“My job isn’t to prove other people wrong, it’s to work with my people every day to make sure they’re the best version of themselves. Because of the run of some players within a team, some haven’t yet shown their quality. We all know how quickly football changes…you get one injury and all of a sudden someone gets an opportunity.
“But when you currently joint top scorers of the league and don’t concede a goal, we’re doing pretty well.
“We haven’t seen some of the other talents that can come in and score goals for us in different ways. What’s great, probably for this game especially, is I’m able to plan in scenarios as well. For example, if we need a goal from a certain way because Chelsea present this to us, then we can put a different forward line up together to try and get the goal. And I think that’s exciting for us.
“I’m never going to say, I told you so.”
How pleased are you for Maya Le Tissier to get her first England call-up?
“When we signed Maya we had aspirations and she has aspirations. But the best thing about Maya is that when we told her that Sarina [Wiegman] is going to speak to her, she actually said, ‘What do I say? What do I say it?’ She’s that humble and just a really good kid [and] doesn’t expect anything.
“She just wants to work hard at her game. What I think what I think it shows everybody is if you have that mentality and you work exceptionally hard, then anything is possible.
“She’s a very, very talented, young player, a step above and beyond her years in maturity. And I think she’s she shows that. What she’s got to do is enjoy these moments. Go and enjoy the camp and step up and show them qualities. It’s really good when you work with people that they actually understand that.”
How impressed have you been with Nikita Parris?
“I’ve felt there’s been a little bit of unfair conversation. It’s a privilege that we Alessia Russo too. But everyone is saying how Nikita must come out [of the team] if Alessia goes in. Actually, our team has the ability to be fluid front three, four and five at times.
“I think I’ve been really impressed [with Parris]. More importantly, I’ve been really impressed with her personality. I love players that show personality. It’s a real big part of why I turn up for work and I think what I allow my planer to do is show their personality. I’m not a restrictive coach.
“I’ve known Nikita for a long time, never coached her, and my partner Laura [Bassett] would aways speak about her personality and vibrancy. That comes out in her football and if I stifle that, we don’t get the best out of Nikita. She’s been great.
“She’s really learnt a lot from the successes that she’s had at other clubs. And that’s why I wanted to bring her in, because I wanted to bring that mentality to us. I think she’s been great so far and gives you an edge because when you need players to take moments in big games, I think she’s definitely one of those players.”
What is the plan for Grace Clinton?
“What we’re doing is designing the pathway very carefully for Grace. What I love is she has bags full of personality. What you need is those people who will take the ball in tight areas and say, look, ‘I’ll make something happen’, when you’re not particularly performing well as well.
“You have to have those types of players. Ella Toone is a great example when maybe we’re performing at our best, she can make a magic moment. I see that in Grace and when you talk to her, she was almost mesmerising in terms of her maturity for someone so young.
“What is important is she has had an injury. Although that won’t leave a lasting effect on her, what I’m trying to do is build her to understand my principles and how we play. A lot of my game is based on principles and then the tactics come around each game.
“One example for her is if you’re going to be brave enough to have the ball and lose it, then you cannot give the opponent a second to breathe. You must transition quickly and it takes time to learn that. Even though it sounds so simple, actually, to put your body into a better position to defend is so important.
“Grace will learn that in this next block. Once she does that, the rest of it is designed for her to be here for a long time.”