Impetus’ Jonathan Stack and Rachel Lara Cohen report on Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur’s events ahead of the first action of 2023 in the WSL (13/1/23).
Skinner: We want to build Liverpool rivalry
by Johnathan Stack
Manchester United will play their first league game in about a month this Sunday as they host Liverpool at Leigh Sports Village in the Women’s Super League.
The United players were given time to unwind at Christmas but have been on a warm-weather training camp together in Malta for the first part of January they also played a friendly against local champions Birkirkara which they won 10-0.
WSL Manager of The Month for December, Marc Skinner described the break to the media as “…a really good trip, built purposefully to get the players back together [after time off at Christmas]. With back-to-back tournament summers as well as a really competitive league, when you can get a moment to rest players, it’s really important that you help them. We’ve used this window to do that, but it’s really important to get everyone back on the same page and focused.”
Skinner also gave his views on the United-Liverpool rivalry saying “I hope it rivals the men’s fixture going forwards. We know what a good team Liverpool are, how Matt [Beard] has them organised – they’ve got a really good, together group.
“This could be a really huge fixture. Not only geographically, but the more games you play [against each other] builds that history. We’re still building that history, but it doesn’t mean it’s a game we don’t look forward to. Liverpool is a very good team and we will not take our eyes off that.
“I believe in the future it will be very much the same as the men’s rivalry. Our job, both Matt and myself while we’re here, is to make sure that we put performances in that maintain that standard of that almost-derby game.
“It’s exciting for us and our fans. We’ve just had very different journeys. At this moment, it’s not us downplaying this type of fixture, especially against a very good team and a rival on the men’s side. It will definitely be that on Sunday, there’s no doubt we’re not taking it lightly.
“What I’m trying to say is there is a slight difference. For us, the way our fans treat it is exactly the way we will treat it, so there is no difference in that. It will take a little bit of time to build the history that the men’s games have had, but we’ll try and play it at that intensity and I’m sure Liverpool will do the same.”
Skinner also went on to talk about the atmosphere leading up to the game against Liverpool saying “[Fans] are always the biggest part. We are at about 8,300 [tickets] sold, so that could break our record again at Leigh.
“We’ve talked about there not yet being that rivalry [on the pitch], but our fans make that rivalry, right? The performances on the field will make that, but the fans will make that too.
“You know how loud the Manchester United fans are. We have to make [Leigh] a cauldron, we’ve made it a fortress anyway and have to continue that with our performance and give Liverpool nothing. But [fans] help set that tone and are the most important thing because we have all played in empty stadiums and they are no fun.”
The United head coach also provided team news ahead of this Sunday’s game, Skinner said “Aoife [Mannion] won’t be ready to start but is ready to be in squads and come into games. She’s not played enough competitive minutes – she got her first 45 when we played Birkirkara. It was really important to do that.
“We had a niggle with Leah [Galton], from which she is back running on the field today. We’re hopeful for the weekend. Apart from that, everyone is fit and ready.”
A win for United will keep them in the title picture as two of the other teams in the WSL title race, Arsenal and Chelsea will be facing off in a huge showdown at the Emirates Stadium.
Manchester United play Liverpool at the Leigh Sports Village on Sunday at five past two in the afternoon.
Rehanne Skinner on Spurs getting ‘the right person for the job’
by Rachel Lara Cohen
Speaking to the press following the record-breaking signing of Beth England and as she prepares her team to face Aston Villa on Saturday in the Barclays WSL, Spurs Women manager, Rehanne Skinner talked about the fit between Beth and Spurs, and where the team is currently at.
Beth England’s transfer
In line with the multiple rumours we’ve heard about this transfer which date back to last Spring, Skinner confirmed that the deal with England was long in the making. As she noted 2Beth is someone we identified quite a while ago, and we’ve been working hard to make that happen.”
She emphasised that “Beth is definitely the right fit for Tottenham. Both in terms of her values and ours.” Going on to highlight her goalscoring statistics, “In terms of minutes on pitch and goals scored it’s incredibly high. She’s got a lot of experience and has shown that she can score in this league. So for us it’s a massive asset and an area we’ve wanted to strengthen since I’ve been here. But it’s building blocks that we’re putting in place. But it’s the right time and we’ve got the person for the job.”
While suggesting reports of the signing fee were ‘exaggerated’ Skinner highlighted that “You pay for what you get. As a club we’re trying to evolve the team and you know it’s important that you pay those fees when you need to, to get the right people in the door, and certainly, as a footballer and as a person she’s going to add huge value to our team.”
There were no obvious hints about whether there were more signings in the pipeline although the Spurs boss noted in answering another question that “we’re still working in the transfer window.”
Later in discussing player availability she added that ‘we’re still trying to keep improving the quality and depth at the same time. And that’s a fine line. We’re not just adding players for players sake if we want to get that right. So sometimes you have to be a bit patient. With a return from injury for some players as well within that. But we’ll get there. We’re in a better place now with them so hopefully, they’re not too far away.”
So, Spurs fans, make of that what you may. It sounds like there is scope for signing additional ‘quality’ player(s) in this window, but the link to injured players may suggest a willingness to see where the team is when some key players (especially Kit Graham and Ria Percival) return to fitness.
Rehanne Skinner acknowledged that things had not been smooth sailing before Christmas. “I think we were ready for the break. A lot of players have played a lot of football with all the tournaments in the summer.”
At several points she reflected on what the problems had been, suggesting that poor results were partly due to the team (which included seven new signings in the summer) had not yet ‘gelled’: “We did really well last year. We’re really proud of that. And obviously we’ve evolved the team further. We’ve added quality to the team. It’s not quite gelled in the way that we wanted to just yet but that takes time and relationship building and we’ve got to put the time and effort into that to get that right.
“The team know that and they’re all very aware of the work that they need to put into that. As well as the staff. And with time you do get to good quality. You do get to consistent performances. And so that is just part of the process unfortunately.”
Skinner also highlighted the “first parts of games” as problem periods, suggesting that “the biggest thing is we’ve got to be more resilient when the game starts and make sure that we make ourselves as hard to beat as possible. That keeps you in games for longer and we’ve certainly got the quality.” Given a series of poor errors early in games it makes sense that this is something she and the team are working on.
Perhaps more contentiously, the Spurs boss claimed that “some of our possession football in particular was outstanding [in the first half of the season]. We were brilliant at times. But we never reaped the rewards from that at times when we probably shout have.” To be generous this probably is valid if you focus on the first few games of the season; probably it’s less convincing with respect to the final three WSL games, however.
Skinner repeatedly sounded an optimistic note about how things have been going since the break: “Players have come back refreshed and ready to go…The last two weeks of training have been fantastic. Really good quality. We’re looking forward to the second half of the season.”
And she provided a little detail about the last week, including a friendly (rumoured to be a win over Arsenal) “We played a friendly last weekend that went really well. So I’m pleased in terms of how that’s evolved. We obviously won a game just before Christmas as well, so it’s just momentum. We want to start building momentum in the second half of the season.”
That said, she acknowledged that progress is going to need to be a longer term project: “You don’t get to the top of the league overnight. And while aspirationally we know where we want to get to, we’re also quite realistic. In that it’s taken a lot of clubs time to get to that point.”
In terms of Saturday’s opponents, the Tottenham boss highlighted that they have had some good results and “Whoever you play poses challenges and we haven’t played them yet this season. So it’s a chance for us to start the year in a positive place.”
She acknowledged that Spurs and Villa have similarities, as “two clubs that are trying to evolve and at a similar pace. As a collective [Villa are] going to be hard to beat. They’ve scored a lot of goals. They’ve conceded goals as well. But that’s the same on our part.2
Skinner noted with respect to injuries and player availability that there are “a few players who aren’t available – but hopefully, we will be getting them back after this weekend so they’re not a million miles off.”
Focusing on Kit Graham and Ria Percival, two big absences from the team who fans are anxious to see back the Spurs chief provided a little more detail. “Kit is progressing really really well. She’s back in the biggest chunks of training. Some bits, not quite. But she’s back training with the group now for the most part so that’s a fantastic place to be in.
“We’re getting to the end stages of her being closer to the pitch now, which is great. In terms of Ria Percival she’s progressing really well as well. Probably quicker than what we expected. The pair of them have worked incredibly hard, and obviously the medical and physical performance staff have done a great job in getting them back to a really good place.’
That said the timeline for neither looks as imminent as some fans have been hoping, especially with it is now well over a year since Graham has played. Skinner was clear that there is no likelihood she will be back playing this month. But “over the course of the next few months, we’ll see what that looks like. There’s no pressure on them to be back right now. We know it’s going to take time but ultimately if we can get them both back into the team this season then I’d be delighted.”
Finally, there was some background to the return to the team of fullback Esther Morgan following a loan spell at Coventry United. “Esther was only on loan until the end of December. It was a temporary loan to support her development and return to play back from a long-term injury so obviously, we wanted to ensure that she was in the best possible place. And we weren’t the right fit for that.
“We needed her to be on the grass. She’s a young player with a lot of talent. And she’s certainly someone that’s part of our Tottenham youth, that we’re investing in. So in the next stage of the season, we’ll be looking at what’s the best thing for her development to get back on track.
“She’s been out since February. It’s a long time for a young player.’ But Morgan’s return does not mean that she’s likely to prise the right-back position away from Amy Turner any time soon. “In terms of right back, I’m comfortable with what Amy’s been doing. I think that she’s adjusted. She’s played it before. She’s played well there.”