The growth of the Manchester United Women’s side has been quick and healthy. But despite impressing and coming a long way, the Champions League has eluded them over the last couple of seasons. They missed out on a third-placed finish by a point in the 2020/21 season and finished five points behind third-placed Manchester City last season.
But another season under Marc Skinner brings in a fresh hope and promise of making it to the top three of the WSL. Last season was filled with instances of the Reds conceding late goals across the campaign and dropping vital points - something that Skinner would’ve definitely worked hard to improve. In a bid to potentially make it to the Champions League, United have made a fair amount of moves to strengthen in a host of areas.
The arrivals of Lucia Garcia and Aissatou Tounkara from Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid respectively will give United a much more of a multi-cultured look this season and both of them will bring in much-needed quality at the back and upfront.
27-year-old Tounkara is a regular for the French national team and played a key role in taking Les Bleus to the semi-finals of the Euros over the summer. She brings a lot of European and Champions League experience to the table, having also won the league with the Los Rojiblancos in the past.
United were sometimes forced to play Hayley Ladd or Katie Zelem in a centre-back role due to Aoife Mannion’s injury, Tounkara brings in a lot of quality and depth to that role.
Garcia, on the other hand, guarantees goals. She has done well for Skinner’s side during pre-season too and comes to United at the back of a 12-goal campaign for Athletic Bilbao, having helped the side improve and finish seventh. And at 24, she offers a massive upside for future development as well.
If there’s another signing that deserves a mention when there is a conversation around a massive upside, then it is Maya Le Tissier. Known to be one of the best young talents in the women’s game in England, the signing from Brighton will come in as a replacement for the departed Kristy Smith, who has joined West Ham. More game time will definitely help Le Tissier become one of the best full-backs in the WSL. A bit like Le Tissier, Grace Clinton will also be seen as a future regular in the heart of the park.
Rachel Williams will add more depth to the frontline and so will Nikita Parris. While the Euros winner’s stock has fallen over the years, her utility at United will be limited as there is a range of options for the wide areas.
Adriana Leon’s arrival from West Ham will make United a much more dynamic side. She excels at carrying the ball into the final third and was 91 percentile for shot-creation actions. Considering how United were fourth in Expected Goals last season, having someone like her would help the Reds raise the floor and allow the strikers to score more.
United were definitely jolted by the late exit of Dutch midfielder Jackie Groenen to Paris Saint-Germain and while that is concerning, Vilde Boe Risa’s emergence could potentially help in addressing that issue. But the Dutch player’s exit will definitely impact Skinner’s side.
Ivana Ferreira Fuso has joined Bayer Leverkusen on a loan deal and while she did make some impact here and there with some raw pace and energy, Leon brings a similar profile to the plate. Fuso’s development in Germany will be vital to how United handle her long-term future.
Carrie Jones will be continuing her development at Leicester City in what could be a very good move for the 19-year-old. She only featured briefly last season and considering the lack of depth in midfield for United, her emergence can be important for the Reds.
The same can be said of Tara Bourne, who has joined Birmingham City on loan. And at 19, depending on how Mannion’s form post-recovery goes, Bourne’s development can help United shore up the backline further - especially considering Diane Caldwell’s exit from the club.
Groenen’s exit hurts but new signings will come good
Groenen was a vital part of the United dressing room since her arrival and she belongs to a high stature as a player as well. While she didn’t score or assist last season, her ability to bring the ball back and recycle it forward is something which United will miss.
Having said that, it could have been a lot worse for United in terms of outgoings. Ona Batlle was the subject of keen interest from Barcelona and while a move seemed close, the Spaniard ended up staying. And considering her importance to the side, keeping her is a massive positive for United.
Even though United have lost Groenen, the incomings offer the promise of improvement and the profiles brought in suggest that there may well be a plan in place - something which can’t always be said for the men’s team. The likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City managed to retain their best players but United will rely a lot on the growth in stature of both Ella Toone and Alessia Russo, especially considering their exploits over the summer.