Skinner: Manchester United have proven their ability – now to win the prize

Impetus’ Arwen Moses reports from Manchester United head coach Marc Skinner‘s media conference today ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup Final against Chelsea at a sold-out Wembley (12/5/23).

Above: Manchester United head coach Marc Skinner is confident in his team’s ability and can draw on his own previous experience in charge of a team at an FA Cup Final to guide them to victory on Sunday. Photo: Matthew Appleby for Impetus.

Marc Skinner’s Manchester United have made history by progressing the furthest they have before in the FA Cup, and the Red Devils boss has his eyes on the prize. 

A place in the Wembley final may have appeared as a daunting task ahead of the Reds as they set out on their FA Cup journey at Sunderland in the fourth round back in January. Having never made it further than the quarter-finals, United have fought for results against Sunderland, Durham, Lewes, and most recently Brighton and Hove Albion. 

Chelsea go into the final with the aim to defend their title, having won the competition four times previously. Unbeaten in the FA Cup since September 2020, Emma Hayes’ team have demonstrated a steely composure under pressure. However, Skinner’s United can not be ruled out as the underdogs. Currently sitting on top of the WSL table, and with an unbeaten record in April, United have also proven their ability to score goals in important games. Skinner claims that while there is a lack of experience within the team for finals, the Reds have proven their ability and fight in important games. 

“Emma will tell you that we are the favourites here, because we are sitting top of the league. We know how that question and that conversation will go. The reality is that they have more experience right now, but we want to experience this more often and go to more finals. For us, the experience is something which we will gain, we will have to get it on the job.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if you want to pick a favourite, then Chelsea should be put on that mantel because of the fact that they’ve been here before. But the reality is, we have a team of rebels who want to make sure that may not be the fact”. 

Unlike United, Skinner has previous experience with FA Cup Finals. As manager of Birmingham City, he suffered defeat at Wembley to Manchester City in 2017. Upon reflection, the Reds’ boss is adamant that lessons have been learned from the defeat; but not with the on-pitch tactics.  

“What we got wrong at Birmingham is that we made it a massive event, and bigger than it should have been. We know it’s a big deal, everyone knows it’s a really big deal, and we are looking forward to it. We made it too big at Birmingham, we made mistakes and that was from naivety.

Above: Ella Toone and Alessia Russo – two United players who can draw on their experience of playing in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley before ahead of Sunday’s first-ever sellout for an FA Cup Final. Photo: Suvadeep Biswas for Impetus.

“We put quotes on the wall from the players’ families, and it became an emotional event, rather than being a clean and business-like event. You can celebrate afterwards if you win the Cup, and you can then be as emotional as you want. The reality is that there will be enough emotions in the game, that we need to save them up”. 

Keen to learn from previous wrongdoings, Skinner remains calm and clinical for Sunday’s tie. While acknowledging the emotional enormity of the event, the United head coach aims to remain focussed on the fixture, and the task in hand. 

“I’ll feel immense pride and a lot of admiration for the players and the club for how far we have come in such a short space of time. Honestly, then just pure focus. I’m hoping I don’t hear a member of the crowd for one second. I hope the players hear United fans, but I’m pretty businesslike about this. I know exactly what I need to do. I’m sure there will be some nerves, but I’m fueling my focus and attention to the game. I’ve been on the other end of it, so I want to make sure we give everything because if we win it, it will be massive”. 

Following an unbeaten record in April, with maximum points earnt from league games, Skinner was recently announced as the Barclays WSL Manager of the Month. His recent success led him to reflect on his career so far, and how he believes he has changed in handling the emotional element of the game better. 

“I talk a lot about the mental side of the game. We talk about mental health in every aspect of life now, and I think you have to have resilience in a sport where a lot of people like what you do, and a lot of people don’t like what you do.

“For me, what I’ve learned is methods to help calm me when I need to be calm. I need to be calm to get a message across even if people around me are flustered. I’ve learned to seek a solution rather than fuel a fire. I don’t work up emotion as much as I used to. I’ve learned mostly about internalising my own conversation. My biggest learning curve has been facing challenges and trying to get on with them”. 

“I have pressure every day. I would argue that we have that pressure more than Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City because we are Manchester United. I feel that, but I internalise it because I want us to do well. There isn’t a Manchester United fan who doesn’t want us to win and we are huge around the world. I feel that pressure everyday but I use it to drive on our players.” 

Several of the team have played at Wembley in the past with the Lionesses, with some of the players having exceptional games in the 90,000-seater stadium. Those such as Ella Toone and Mary Earps scribed their names into the history of the game within the country due to their on-pitch heroics in London and will be looking to replicate such moments on Sunday. Skinner believes that there will be a different atmosphere in the sold-out Wembley than if it was an international fixture, but the prior experience will aid the team. 

“I think it will feel different. When you are at Wembley for an England game, it’s about almost everyone supporting England. Here, there will be a divide. Their experience will be vital, but most importantly we can’t win this just from individual experiences. We have to win this as a collective.”

This article begins Impetus’ in-depth coverage of the FA Cup Final. On Sunday, Ben Phillips will be providing pitchside photography for us both on our social media feeds (@ImpetusFootball on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) and a match photo gallery, Nathan Edwards will be analysing the game for us in the Wembley press box, and Jon Smalldon will be live tweeting the match as it is in progress.

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