WSL Preview: Manchester United

Better late than never we quickly finish our Women’s Super League previews with Casey Stoney‘s Manchester United.

Newly promoted to the FA WSL this season, the reds are one of the most intriguing teams. Many of their fans last season felt their team did not get the respect they felt was due. Other supporters felt that as the only fully-professional team in a semi-pro league they have still not proven themselves. I suppose that in that league, until you have to play your youth team because the first team can’t get the time off work (as other teams have had to) then dues have not yet been paid.

Credit to the Devils, though – they have been loyal to the players who got them the promotion, unlike some other teams have been. Though an argument can be made that when you already have a WSL-ready team, not many changes need to be made. One outgoing has put the cat amongst the pigeons, but let’s look at the other side of the coin first.

In terms of incomings, there have not been many but they have been smart with their choices. Going for experienced players to complement the youngsters they have is a clever move.

The biggest talking point has to be the move across town for Abbie McManus, who has been a Manchester City player for most of her playing career and definitely all of her professional career. The move came as a shock to most of the blues fans but anyone who knows Abbie knows she was brought up a Man U fan. The result of this trade is that McManus gets to don the shirt of her childhood club and the newcomers get a world-class defender. Abbie is a dynamite player who will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience of the WSL – an instant upgrade on what they had previously.

Abbie’s fellow England teammate Mary Earps has also moved to Leigh (where Man Utd play, a delightful 45-minute bus ride from Manchester city centre) despite early reports she was heading Tottenham’s way. A season at Wolfsburg will no doubt have improved Earps as a player. On the other hand, she did have a very sparse season with the German champions, spending a lot of time bench-warming. Due to unexpected circumstances (see below), Earps is now expected to be bumped up to their number one shot-stopper. I love Mary, I do, she’s an absolute sweetheart, but there are major concerns in her ability to play consistently for ninety minutes.

Adding to their defensive push is Welsh international and ex-Birmingham midfielder Hayley Ladd. Having been solid for the blues for the last few seasons, she was part of the mass exodus from the Midlands club. You would hope that both she and McManus will form a bond quickly to help protect their backline.

Jane Ross has also moved back north to become the new number nine for the Red Devils. After a semi-successful season with West Ham, rumours of her move have been raging since the FA Cup Final, thanks to some very talkative relatives of West Ham’s number three. Having never found her goal-scoring form with the Hammers, Ross is after another fresh start to regain her reputation as a fearsome striker. Hopefully the move doesn’t upset her former clubmates at Manchester City too much.

Jackie Groenen, yet another Dutch International, can be considered Manchester United’s biggest signing. Having been involved in two successive successful Netherlands squads, this is a player to be talked about. A midfielder by trade, she is quick, aggressive and has a penchant for scoring goals. She will be a force to be reckoned with. Her experience will also be useful to the relatively young squad.

In terms of losses, Man United has had a massive one that no one could have predicted. The news hit late on a Sunday night and here at the Since 71 offices we were stunned. Well…I say offices. It’s a Whatsapp group. The sentiment is still the same. In any case, the shock of Man United’s captain Alex Greenwood leaving for Lyon has radiated amongst the barmy army leading to many cries about the money laid out for Greenwood shirts. I refer you to my earlier advice on outlying for shirts before every move is finalised.

The decision is shocking on many fronts, particularly Greenwood’s decision to go from guaranteed 90 mins of play, captaining her globally-recognised team, what many would consider the pinnacle of a footballing career. This has now been traded in for what is probably going to a season of bench warming. The second and perhaps more burning is why would Lyon pick Greenwood out of all the left-backs in all the world. Man United fans, please don’t @ me but there are much better defenders in the global leagues. Greenwood had a good year in the conference but her World Cup was less than average. In fact, an often-heard cry from pubs across France was “For God’s/Christ’s/deity of your choice’s sake Greenwood”. Good luck to her but this now leaves Manchester United with a captain-shaped hole to fill.

Their second big loss (under far happier circumstances) is that of Siobhan Chamberlain. The former England goalkeeper announced that she and her husband are expecting their first child. Reduced to light training, it appears Chamberlin will be placing her stalking career on hold. As previously mentioned, this now increased the pressure on Mary Earps who is stepping up much earlier than could have been anticipated. Congratulations are however certainly in order for Shiv.

The rest of Manchester United’s losses are their younger players, many of whom were loaned out partway through last season.

One loss has devastated the United Ultras, some would say more than Greenwood is that of Naomi Hartley. One of the seven players who re-signed with the club when the team was reinstated, she was truly one of their own. Not having been given much game time at the Devils, she was dispatched to Sheffield United on loan. Many fans felt the game time she got there would prove to Stoney that she could be an integral cog in their machine. Alas, it was not to be and Hartley was let go. However, she must have made an impression on the Blades as they snapped her up as soon as she was released, giving Naomi another year in the Championship to grow into the potential she has already shown.

Ebony Salmon has also been traded after a loan to the Blades last year. She keeps her place in the top league, as Bristol City have shown the keenest interest in the young under 19’s striker. As I have said previously she is an unknown, unquantifiable, unpredictable risk. She is either the most prolific striker, with pace, passion and unbeatable skill. Or she disappears into the masses and can’t get enough on the ball to finish against the final man. Only time can tell how she will fare against tougher opposition.

Charlie Devlin is the last youngster who has missed out in Casey’s plan for the club. She is heading down south to play for Charlton Athletic, a club that has a rich history in the Women’s game as one of its trailblazers. Due to financial issues with the Men’s side and their board, they had to minimise their women’s team for some time, but now they’re back and it’s a great club for Devlin to cut her teeth at. With sixteen appearances for the Devils and five goals, she will be a force for Athletic this season, mark my words.

League Prediction; 6th/7th

I think they are going to have a good first season. However, the difference between the conference and the WSL is huge, so they will be tussling with Bristol. They have a good squad, which will give them enough of a boost to avoid the drop. They are, on the other hand, scrappy, youthful and will make silly errors due to that inexperience.  Having a new captain at the helm is bound to have some impact on the team too. Eventually, they will take the league by storm I have no doubt but until then the Barmy Army might have to get used to that unusual feeling of losing.

Allie Coker
ac19790@hotmail.com