It was a debut season to remember for Manchester United Women. The newest Reds laid waste to the Women’s Championship in 2018/19, far outpacing all of their part-time rivals. Eighteen league wins. 98 goals scored. Promotion to the top-flight. Honestly, this season couldn’t have gone much better for Casey Stoney’s side.
For years — thirteen, to be exact, since the last United Women entity folded in 2005 — fans questioned why Manchester United didn’t field a women’s team. Turns out it was to give everyone else a chance.
From day one of the league season, the title seemed destined for United. The Reds crushed Aston Villa 12-0, laying down a marker of dominance for the rest of the year. Jess Sigsworth marked her club debut with five(!) goals, Lauren James added two more, and Katie Zelem chipped in with another.
The only Championship opponent to even trouble United was Durham Women. The Wildcats took points off their hosts at Leigh Sports Village in September, before handing the Reds their only league defeat three months later.
Stoney, a former England international with over 100 caps to her name, assembled a talent-packed squad that simply overwhelmed the competition. Impressively, this was also Stoney’s first experience as a permanent manager. She previously served as interim player-manager at Chelsea and also worked under Phil Neville with the England Women’s National Team. And, now, she’s proven herself among the top bosses in the country.
Recognizing the difficulty of starting a new team on the fly, Stoney created “Team United” to jump-start the process. “‘Team United’ was my brainchild, something I was keen to do,” she told the BBC in April. “Things away from the pitch, I think, are always key.”
“We brought a dance teacher in — that was my biggest fear. Dancing in front of the group, I couldn’t stand that. But some of them loved it, some of them hated it, just like some of them loved the boxing and some of them hated that. It works on different aspects of teamwork and the different dynamics within the team, and facing your fears, as well as communication skills.”
Even with the Championship title wrapped up well in advance of season’s end, the United women didn’t let up at all. They signed off the season with four straight clean sheet blowouts: 5-0, 7-0, 5-0, and 5-0. Truly impressive stuff.
While Luke Shaw seemingly picked up Player of the Year by default, there was no shortage of deserving options on the women’s side. In the end, Zelem — the heartbeat of the team in midfield (and dangerous in attack with eleven goals) — won out. Her prior experience at Juventus allowed Zelem to hit the ground running in Manchester and carve her name into the club’s history books as the inaugural Women’s Player of the Year. The 23-year-old boasts pinpoint accuracy on free kicks, scoring goals and setting up great chances for others.
“It’s amazing,” Zelem told MUTV. “It makes it even more special that it’s the first-ever award. I couldn’t have asked for much more from the first season, to be honest. Every one of the girls has played a part, whether it be on the pitch or off the pitch.”
Really, the honor could have gone to any number of players. Sigsworth won the Championship’s Golden Boot with 17 league goals (plus another in the cups). And James was hot on her heels with 17 goals in all competitions, as well. Captain Alex Greenwood led the squad and earned a call-up to the national team for this summer’s Women’s World Cup. At the back, Millie Turner started every match of the 2018/19 season.
The accolades didn’t stop with the players. Stoney won the LMA Women’s Championship Manager of the Month award three times this season. And, truthfully, she deserved even more. MU Women dominated from the off and kept the pedal to the metal en route to the league title.
In the cups, the Reds reached the League Cup semifinals and the FA Cup quarterfinals. Not bad for the first year. The League Cup defeat came to Arsenal, who blasted through the Super League to nearly the same degree that United did the Championship. That narrow 2-1 loss, while disappointing for Stoney’s high-flyers, bodes well for the club ahead of their step up next season. If they can already go toe-to-toe with Arsenal now, the sky’s the limit in 2019/20.
Big competition awaits in the Super League, with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool all in the mix. But, if this season is anything to go by, the United women are up for the challenge.