As the 2022 WSL season finishes, Manchester United forward Alessia Russo must be celebrated as having played a noteworthy term of football.
Russo joined United in September 2020, immediately hammering home her mark by registering three goals and one assist in just three appearances. For her efforts, Russo was named as the WSL’s Player of the Month a few weeks later in October. An unfortunate hamstring injury last November meant that Russo’s promising first season in red was cruelly cut short, however since returning she has most certainly made up for lost time.
Prior to joining the Red Devils, Russo had top-flight experience with Chelsea and Brighton and Hove Albion. Charlton Athletic was where it all began for Russo as a youngster, before she moved on to Chelsea’s development squad, making her senior debut in 2016. After a single game with the Blues, Russo joined a newly promoted Brighton where she made history scoring the Seagulls’ first goal in the top division.
With a short but successful stint with Brighton under her belt, Russo moved across the pond to play college football joining ACC side Carolina Tar Heels. Whilst in the States Russo further developed the skills that would later attract the likes of Manchester United. In her first season abroad, Russo netted nine goals and earned two assists in 19 appearances, before becoming the first Tar Heel to be awarded a United Soccer Coaches first-team All-America selection since 2013. To put Russo’s credibility into perspective, she achieved this selection whilst suffering from a broken leg. Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic Russo returned home, cutting her final year of college short and signed with United just a few weeks later.
Over the course of this season, Russo has stood out as one of the league’s most capable forwards. Having played in both a number nine role and as a winger, as part of Marc Skinner’s rotational preference, Russo has been able to hone qualities that will secure her as an asset across any stretch of the forward line.
When noting Russo’s play, it becomes simpler to see how she has achieved such prolificity in such a short space of time. Russo is progressive, aggressive and deceptively quick. She will put pedal to the metal when an opening presents itself with the scope to instantly put a defender or goalkeeper under pressure. Notably, Russo is a player that will also track and close opponents down; she is a constant in United’s press meaning she is as important to her side’s defence as she is their attack.
Russo is adept at drawing in opponents, with the ball and without, to open up passages for teammates. This causes her to be a significant figure in United’s creative play. Whilst she may not be the most instinctively ‘creative’ player herself, Russo has enough awareness to occupy attention which affords her the opportunity to feed line breaking passes. This eye to pick out a pass also lends itself nicely to Russo’s wide role, allowing her to send in accurate crosses to attackers in the box.
However, even when playing as a winger, Russo has a tendency to cut inside and make her runs through the middle when in possession. These central lanes are the spaces Russo naturally gravitates to and as such, are the spaces she ultimately thrives in. This is potentially a key reason as to why Russo has now become a regular squad member in Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses. As ‘more senior’ players begin phase out over the next few years, Russo is an obvious choice to eventually take up England’s number nine role.
As a focal point, Russo has a presence, a physicality to contest one-on-one, and the height to make the most of aerial opportunities. Being unmistakably difficult to stop in front of goal, Russo sells a lucrative centre forward package, and when considering England’s flanks are employed by Lauren Hemp, Beth Mead and Chloe Kelly, an Alessia Russo centrepiece makes for a rather pleasing frontline.
Having surely avowed her status as one of the leagues, and indeed the country’s, most exciting attacking prospects, Russo will undoubtedly continue to gather the attention of the masses. However, the most encouraging part of Russo’s future is that she has barely scratched the surface, and that is certainly something to look forward to.