Manchester United women were set to start their 2022/23 FA Women’s Super League campaign in front of a large crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last Saturday, but football was postponed “as a mark of respect” to Queen Elizabeth II after her passing.
Now they will begin their season against Reading this Saturday at Leigh Sports Village, despite the fact that Old Trafford is available.
Here’s a look at the matchup at the weekend.
Previous Meeting and Relevance
Reading women finished 8th in the table last season, losing both matches to Manchester United by a combined score of 5-1.
Reading set up primarily to defend in both fixtures, something they did with regularity against strong FA WSL opposition above them. In the second of those meetings they faced a Manchester United XI that could closely resemble the XI this saturday.
Reading’s set up here was aimed to absorb pressure, win the ball back in midfield, and attack with numbers. They struggled coping defensively however, and United won the match 3-1 by exploiting space behind the Reading defense. Alessia Russo and Leah Galton both found good goalscoring form last season, and matches like this were excellent examples of their ability to capitalize on space and sustained pressure. The opening goal and the clinching goal both came after threatening possessions and chances created, exploiting a weakness in Reading’s defense as they scrambled to cope with the pressure.
This match is particularly relevant to Saturday’s match because Reading have made almost no changes to their squad from last season. They’ve had one player leave on loan, but so far otherwise haven’t made any key arrivals or sales.
Utilizing width and finding the right formula in attack
Coincidentally, the first of the matches last season against Reading was the season opener at Leigh Sports Village. Goals from Kirsty Hanson and Ona Batlle made the difference on the day, showing the strength of United’s talented wide players, especially the full-backs. Hannah Blundell and Batlle made several ventures forward, and were the source of dangerous balls into the box.
One thing that wasn’t fully sorted that day was the starting forward line. Ella Toone was the center forward that day with Hanson and Galton on the flanks. While Galton could keep her role considering her strong play last season and in preseason, Marc Skinner has more options at his disposal in picking forwards. The arrival of Adriana Leon, Lucia Garcia, and Nikita Parris in the summer gives the squad even more strength for selection in wide areas, something that will hopefully widen the gap between United and the rest of the pack in the FA WSL, as well as close the gap between them and the seemingly immovable top 3 clubs of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City.
Midfield is a little bit in question, with more speculation over Jackie Groenen’s future this week, and defensively there have been new arrivals, but for the most part you can expect Skinner to go for the same 4-2-3-1 shape and design in those areas regardless of personnel. the wing backs Blundell and Batlle offer so much going forward for United, and even if there are shaky moments in defense it was generally worth the risk of adding them to attack regularly last season. This was especially the case against the weaker teams.
There’s plenty of excitement about Manchester United this season. They had a campaign to build on last year as they only just missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification, but found a reliable attacking force in Russo and Toone as well as leap years from a few other players. Paired with the excitement of England winning the European Championship this summer, the United women could really take a step forward in terms of support and following as well as quality on the pitch.
It’ll take a strong start to get things off on the right foot, and that’s what we’re predicting.
Manchester United 3-0 Reading