Opinion: Stoney can guide Man United to historic WSL finish

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Manchester United are just seven points behind their final total for last season. Now, with two World Cup winners in their ranks, can Casey Stoney and her Red Devils go the distance with the ‘big three’?

United have a great squad and have some serious depth to it this season. Whilst they can afford to lose players to injury, this is the crux of any title push – keeping players fit and firing.

They were without Tobin Heath and Christen Press for the start of the season. Lauren James has struggled to maintain fitness and Katie Zelem was sidelined after testing positive for Covid-19.

However, starting the season undefeated and sitting top of the WSL after six games has made a lot of people sit up and take notice. Stoney has her side organised. She ensures they make up for any gap in ability though drive and determination, just as she did during her playing days.

Man United know they don’t have the same squad quality as the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City or Arsenal, but they have worked on being clinical when they have the ball and ensuring they reduce the number of turnovers. This allows the players to preserve their energy for pressing from the front and putting the opposition under pressure. This allows United to regain possession and tire the opposition out mentally.

Exceeding Their own Expectations

Speaking ahead of the Manchester Derby, Zelem admitted being top has maybe ‘surpassed our own expectations’. However, stats and results don’t lie and they clearly show Man United to be one of the best teams, if not the best in the league.

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They top the charts for shots (115), key passes (85) and second for shots on target (41) just behind Saturday’s opponents Manchester City with 55. United were ruthless against Arsenal last weekend, not allowing the Gunners to find their natural passing rhythm.

How do they manage to make themselves a threat in every game whilst being defensively solid? Stoney has built on key areas and ensured no position is ignored. Unlike at City last season who struggled at the full-back position, playing Georgia Stanway as a right-back a lot of the time.

Stoney has been able to add real quality to her squad, whilst also promoting and sometimes prioritising youth players who have the energy to carry out her high standard of pressing.

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When looking at this Manchester United side, you would struggle to point out a weakness. Opponents have also noticed this and have been unable to target an area of the squad. Instead, teams are having to try and work around a solid back four, as well as two central midfielders who work tirelessly in the engine room.

The Stats that can’t be Ignored

United are just as impressive further up the pitch. Stoney boasts an array of attacking talent, including Heath, Press, Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Leah Galton and Lauren James.

Knowing they have such talent in the final third to put away chances means United don’t have to force anything. They’ve had just 174 touches in the oppositions penalty area compared to City (228), Arsenal (203) and Chelsea (215) – showing they can lure teams into a false sense of security before landing a killer blow with one of their top quality finishers.

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Despite the lack of touches in the final third, they’re smart and sensible when on the ball. They’ve had 179 shot-creating actions, which is the most in the league. They have also only been dispossessed 80 times this season, the best in the league again.

United’s lack of experience in the WSL is being made up by a manager on the sideline who knows the league inside and out. If you have a manager and team that trusts in their forward players implicitly, then they will pay you back in dividends.

Silent Assassins in the Final Third

Toone has three goals in six matches with a 26 SCA (shot-creating action), which is the second-best in the league. So, Man United have players who are willing to sacrifice their own greed for goals to create for others. They know that the favour will be repaid with the quality they possess up front.

When you have World Cup winners, full internationals and players that have played in other countries amongst your ranks you have a chance on paper to do well. However, football isn’t played on paper.

Therefore, Stoney’s side have a great chance of making a real push for the WSL in just their second season. This is huge praise for a side so new to the league and with a lot of young players carrying out important roles.

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