Marc Skinner’s Manchester United remained at the top of the WSL table with a compact 1-0 win over Leicester City in a performance which was far from spectacular.
The win came as a result of Nikita Parris’ first-half goal and United remained tied at the top, as Arsenal also managed to grab a 2-0 win over Liverpool on Sunday itself.
The Reds came into the game following a win 4-0 win over Brighton, but Skinner made some changes to the side and altered the formation as well. Hayley Ladd dropped to the bench, with Ona Batlle missing from the side. United played with a front two and started with a 4-1-3-2 shape, as Maria Thorisdottir started at right-back instead of Batlle, with Zelem starting as the only deep midfielder for the Reds.
Parris and Lucia Garcia started together upfront, with Lucy Staniforth, Ella Toone and Leah Galton started behind the front two. Maya le Tissier and Millie Turner kept their place at centre-back.
The new shape provided a new set of challenges, especially since the Reds hadn’t used this shape before and hadn’t used a front two previously. There was a lack of control in deeper midfield, especially since they played with only Zelem in midfield.
United late to fully exert their control on the game, with both Parris and Garcia running in-behind instead of operating deeper. That left United a player less in possession and playing with just one deeper midfielder allowed Leicester to be potent on transitions.
Leicester relied a fair bit on the movement from their front two of Natasha Flint and Missy Goodwin and their presences allowed the Foxes to press really well and occupy United’s centre-back pairing. It was a bold approach but it didn’t allow United to impose themselves in the first 30 minutes and allowed them more of the ball on the break, especially due to the absence of the gritty Hayley Ladd.
But it was an excellent set-piece from Zelem that brought about United’s opener in the 34th minute, as Parris headed it into the net and scored her first WSL goal for the Reds. It was her second goal of the season, following her goal against Aston Villa in the FA Cup.
The goal and the delivery had come just minutes after Zelem had skied a free-kick from a promising position, but the United skipper proved her excellent from set-pieces by setting up Parris for the opener.
The rest of the first-half proved to be a very midfield dominated affair - perhaps showing that United fare better with a double pivot. Leicester’s aggressive approach made it tough for United to dominate possession, but the Foxes failed to make it count in the first 45 minutes.
Skinner’s side lacked a ball-carrier from deep in the second-half, showing the lack of Batlle. Her absence brought with it the lack of United’s reliable right side, which had Batlle, Le Tissier and Garcia. This meant that United weren’t at their supreme best and ball progression was lacking.
The 81st minute saw United get a massive chance to make it 2-0. The Foxes lost the ball via a goal kick and Parris was quick to pounce on it and help United to a 3v2 situation in the final third. But Toone’s shot was blocked and it went out for a corner that United couldn’t make much out of.
It was one of the most genuine chances of the game for either sides, but the Foxes had a golden chance to potentially equalise. Jemma Purfield’s cross from the left for Goodwin was low but Mary Earps couldn’t gather it properly. Goodwin nearly latched onto it but Earps was quick enough to get control of the ball once again.
In what a very midfield-dominated affair, clear cut chances were at a minimum. But the result is all that matters for United, who remains unbeaten in the WSL and are carrying a fair bit of momentum.