Holly Wright was in Manchester United head coach Marc Skinner‘s media conference ahead of tomorrow’s Conti Cup game at Durham for us. She heard the Red Devils chief reveal his huge respect for the Championship side and how he recognises the pressure that comes with being in charge of the Red Devils (25/10/22).
Above: Manchester United head coach Marc Skinner, who spoke to the media ahead of tomorrow’s Conti Cup tie at Durham. Photo: Manchester United Women.
This is the second season in a row that Manchester United have drawn Durham in the Continental Cup group phase, so they are no strangers to the style of football their opponents play and the threat they pose from set pieces that caused ‘The Red Devils’ trouble last time around after the game ended a 2-2 draw with United getting the extra point for the penalty shoot out win.
Head coach Marc Skinner spoke about how they plan to defend against the Championship side’s aerial danger, “They are always going to be a threat from set pieces regardless. What we could probably do better is give less of them away in those areas and defend more effectively. The best way to probably defend against them is to defend with the ball. If they are not attacking, you can get a nice rhythm, and you are probably going to maintain good control in the game as much as possible.”
Skinner is keen to show the sell-out Durham crowd how much his team have developed since the two sides last met. “I think we’ve evolved. It is a different style of the game. We have done our homework and they play some really nice football as well and that’s not been trying to be facetious, its really good style with a good mix and a good blend and there is a lot of respect for them.
“For us, we have to try and limit their strengths, but also show how much we have grown. I thought in the game against Leicester on Sunday there were moments where I saw growth within our team so I’m expecting the same against a very difficult Durham team.”
Mental preparation also plays a key part in making sure the players are in the best psychological state managing the transfer from top grass pitches to enclosed 4G arenas and especially with the hectic schedule of the WSL alongside the international breaks and the Continental Cup. “It is very much a mental switch. Me as a coach, I’ve grown up coaching on fields like that for a long time. We do get spoiled as you get more professional, but the players are professional, and they know it’s going to be a tough job. They know what they’ve got to do in order to take the points from this game.
“I think it’s around this time last year that we actually played them anyway at their ground. The fans were raucous. It was a really good atmosphere. It’s very close to the pitch as well so it’s a really good psychological test for us. We’ve just got to do what we can. We have got to control the game as much as possible. We have to deal with it on the day and have to defend against the good players that Durham put out.”Marc Skinner, Manchester United Head Coach.
In terms of the expected raucous atmosphere at the ground, Skinner doesn’t see it impacting on his team, rather looking at how it can inspire his players.
“You have to turn the psyche the other way and go right everything is trying to go against us, so you dig in; show what qualities we have as players and absorb the crowd’s energy. Try and use it against them as much as possible. If you were at the game last year you would know many fans we had there too. They travelled in their numbers so it will be a real good game, I’m sure.”
The Manchester United boss confirmed there are no fresh injury concerns for the trip to Durham but is optimistic that Alessia Russo and Grace Clinton could possibly feature at the weekend. “Ona (Batlle) will probably miss this game. Obviously, there are still absentees with Grace (Clinton), Alessia (Russo), and Aoife (Mannion) so everyone else should be available for the game, but I think Alessia and Grace may even be ready potentially for the Everton game this weekend.”
United are currently unbeaten in the WSL this season and second in the table only on goal difference. Their opening Conti Cup ended in defeat on penalties at Aston Villa after Rachel Daly cancelled out Nikita Parris’ first-half goal for Skinner’s side. The Red Devils chief believes pressure comes with the territory of being at the club and is no more than he expected when he was first appointed manager.
“I said when I first came here, pressure is just part of this job and for us I want the fans to be expecting us to do well of course but our fans are also very aware of how we have grown and what we’re trying to achieve here. The performances, the types of wins, we have been getting, the clean sheets, and for league games, they are aware of the points that we are progressing with but like them, we want to win as well so the pressure is part of what we do, and it is something we enjoy. It’s part of everything that’s in our DNA at Manchester United so we welcome it.”
Although the WSL will be United’s priority this season, the club are three-time semi-finalists in this competition and so this year will be hoping to go at least one better with the 39-year-old insisting it’s important to take the competition seriously. “It can be a real springboard. We know how important a cup like this can be, so I want to stress we are not taking it lightly. Even if we make adaptations within the team like we did against Villa and obviously the team against Leicester, that is not taking the opponent lightly but the players we are bringing in are now of the calibre that should be starting players.”
“For us it’s about keeping balance. It’s about keeping the rhythm within the team but also giving very good players the opportunity to play. Against Villa, we should have won the game. I don’t think we performed particularly well but we should have won the game. We had a chance in the last couple of minutes to really cement that and then we lose on a penalty shoot-out so for us it’s important that we take this game as serious as we would any other game but also, I’m really excited to see what some of the other players can produce.”
Championship side Durham welcome Manchester United to Maiden Castle Sports Ground on Wednesday October 26th with a scheduled 7pm kick-off.