Manchester United women are having a season like no other. Through to their first ever cup final and sitting top of the WSL, The Athletic’s Carl Anka believes they are on the cusp of disrupting the traditional big three.
United were favourites going into Saturday’s semi-final, but they ended up doing it the hard way, Rachel Williams coming off the bench to score an 89th minute winner to seal their place in the final and in the clubs history books.
Melissa Phillips took charge of her first game at Brighton, their third permanent manager of the season, had organised her team well; they were compact, allowing United to dominate possession but defending well.
In the first 45, they had 69% possession but were 1-0 down, a scoreline which according to Anka “illustrated how complacent Skinner’s side had been.”
Lucia Garcia was United’s brightest spark of the half bursting into the box, dancing round defenders, cutting back on herself and providing United with goal-scoring opportunities but it wasn’t enough.
A Mary Earps own goal was the difference at half-time looking to cause a cupset.
It must have been a big team talk at half-time as Skinner’s side came flying out of the blocks, the best full-back in the league, Ona Batlle, charged down the right and crossed to Galton to level things up.
Earps redeemed herself from her earlier error by making a massive save in the 58th minute and Zelem thread a ball through to Russo who put the Reds in the lead.
The drama wasn’t over as an error from Millie Turner allowed Carter to poke an equaliser past Earps.
It took the calm and collected Rachel Williams to come on and be the difference once again for United, how many times has she come off the bench this season and like a poacher scored a goal? More often than not, the winning goal as well!
Anka says, “They are nearly there as the best team in the country, almost ready to take on Champions League duties as well as domestic ones. They are so close to making the leap from contenders to champions.”
United didn’t have much time to celebrate though, as attention quickly turns to their mid-week game against Arsenal in the WSL.
It’s a six-point game with the top four so bunched together, a game United must win to keep up with the title race.
Five years after they were founded in April 2018, the Reds are now one of the best teams in the country but as Anka says, “credit has to be given to a coaching staff and playing group that seeks to bring out the best in each other.”
Skinner often talks about how despite the wonderful season they have had so far, they haven’t won anything yet.
“I don’t want them to miss the opportunity to feel the game, but we haven’t won anything. So, get on to your business — you can feel it, but at game-time, don’t let it distract you.”
Looking ahead to Wednesday test he said, “That’s the hardest balance: staying focused for a huge challenge on Wednesday (against Arsenal) and all the others before Wembley.”
They could end the season with a domestic double although they are not favourites for this. They will have to beat Chelsea for the first time since their formation to win the FA Cup and have a near flawless run in the league to be in with a shout but it’s a great position the Reds find themselves in going forward.
Anka concludes, “The future remains bright: a young core, helped by a sprinkle of experience.”
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