Manchester United will lose more than just goals through Tobin Heath’s injury

Tobin Heath's injury will require other players to step up and fill the void

Tobin Heath shouts instructions to her teammates.
Manchester United's Tobin Heath during the FA Women's Super League match at the Madejski Stadium, Reading. (Photo by Andrew Matthews)

Manchester United’s unexpected title charge may have taken a huge dent as Tobin Heath is set to be out for at least 10 weeks, Casey Stoney confirmed on Friday.

Heath has been a revelation since arriving from Portland Thorns last year. The World Cup winner has registered six goal involvements in just seven starts (four goals and two assists).

Despite comfortably winning 2-0 against Everton on Sunday, Heath’s absence was still clear to see. The Red Devils’ persistence of getting the ball out wide was aided by the Toffee’s inability to realise this.

However, United’s plan was was obvious. They would work the ball wide before sliding into the box for Ella Toone and Christen Press. Fortunately for them, this was effective with the help of Leah Galton’s pinpoint accuracy. As a result, Toone and Press proved their ability in front of goal with a goal each.

Heath keeps it simple, but effective

Heath has been able to make things tick in the final third for Manchester. Her knowledge of the game and experience allows her to constantly be one move ahead of the opposition.

The American international has completed 90% of her short passes, which is the best in the squad out of any outfielder to have started at least two games. Her calm head on the ball allows her to keep things simple, but effective.

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Heath has the ability to make quick, short passes and move the opposition around, creating space for others to run into. It’s an aspect of her playing style that United will miss greatly, especially against their title rivals.

Even when Heath is not on the ball or being targeted, she draws players to her because of the undoubted ability she possesses. On numerous occasions, Heath has forced teams to double up on her. This allows space for players such as Ella Toone, Lauren James and Leah Galton to roam into and exploit.

Heath has allowed Stoney to change the way the Reds set up. Her ability to drive forward and make something out of very little is so important. Just look at her goal against Man City, a loose ball she collected and bent into the far corner with ease.

That goal spurred the whole team on to challenge a Man City side who have been a dominant force for a number of years. The arrival of Heath and Christen Press has forced other players to step up their game, taking United to the next level.

Much more than just goals

Heath is currently the club’s third top scorer with four goals in seven starts. She’s adapted to the league and her surroundings like a duck to water and is showing why she is one of the best players in the world.

Against Everton, the Red Devils created ample chances, mainly down to the Toffees’ poor defending and failure to rectify previous mistakes they made in the game.

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In games where Manchester will struggle to break teams down, Heath’s creativity will be highlighted through her absence.

She is leading her teammates in shot-creating actions, averaging 6.73 per 90. Katie Zelem is the closest to her with 5.80. Though, with the captain often operating in a deeper role, Zelem won’t be able to aid the team as much in the final third.

A general on the pitch to her teammates

Heath’s ability to dictate play and create opportunities for her teammates comes through her experience and willingness to take a risk in the final third.

She has 14 carries into the penalty area this season (second in the squad). Those carries have come in just seven starts, so she’s averaging two per game. She also averages an expected goal involvement of 0.76 per game, which is outstanding for someone in their debut season.

Carrying the ball into the penalty area is something Heath has been excellent at and she’s one of the best in the league at doing so. Her quick feet and intelligence makes it more difficult for defenders to win the ball off her.

She’s managed the third most touches in the opposition’s penalty area for United with 37. Alongside only being dispossessed 10 times, she is simply untouchable at times – especially the closer she gets to goal.

Heath has been a standout in most games United have played this season. Stoney will hope her players can step up and fill the void left by one of the world’s best players.