Manchester United will divert their attention from a perfect start to the WSL season on Wednesday night for a trip to second tier Durham at Maiden Castle in the Continental Cup group stage.
United were in the same division as Durham back in 2018/19 but they met as recently as last season in this very competition. Even with the Red Devils a league higher than their Championship opponents on that occasion, the game finished 2-2 in normal time in something of an upset and was eventually won on penalties for the bonus point on offer by Marc Skinner’s side.
Ahead of this one, Skinner has promised rotation to keep players fresh and give meaningful minutes to a number of squad players who featured only sparingly in the WSL so far this season.
Read on for everything the Manchester United boss said at his pre-match press conference.
What is the latest injury news?
“Ona [Batlle] will probably miss this game. There are still absentees with Grace [Clinton], Alessia [Russo], Aoife [Mannion]. Everyone else should be available for the game, but I think Alessia and Grace may even be ready, potentially, for the Everton game at the weekend.“
Did Hannah Blundell come off injured against Leicester?
“It was just making sure when somebody has a surface injury that you balance them as they come back in. Hannah was balanced [against Leicester], but we’ve also got things coming up this weekend that we need to focus on. This is a great game for us to make sure that everyone is competitive going into the games coming up.”
Could academy players feature against Durham?
“There should be a couple of academy players within the squad. It will always depend on the game whether they are birthed into that game or not.
“It’s something we are going to continue to do, but as you know, we do have quite a few senior players that are still fighting and waiting for opportunities. I want to stress that we’re not taking anything lightly, no chance. I’m not rotating for the sake of it. There are players that are performing so well, but it’s just really competitive, and I want them to show that in this game.”
What did you learn from facing Durham last season?
“They’re very good at [set pieces] anyway so they’re always going to be a threat from those regardless. I think what we could do better is probably give less of them away in those areas if we defend more effectively.
“The best way to defend against Durham is to defend with the ball so that, actually, they’re really not attacking and you can get a nice rhythm then – you’re probably going to maintain a kind of control of the game as much as possible. I think we’ve evolved [since last season].
“I like [Durham’s style] and I think it’s a different style of the game. We’ve watched them and of course we’ve done our homework and they actually play some really nice football as well. I’m not trying to be facetious there, I actually mean there’s a really good style – a good mix, a good blend. There’s a lot of respect for them.
“For us, we have to try and limit their strengths, but also show how much we’ve grown. I thought the game against Leicester was a moment where I saw growth within our team, so I’m expecting the same against a very difficult Durham team.”
How will playing in a very open stadium & an artificial pitch change things?
“It’s very much a mental switch you have to make.
“Me, as a coach, I’ve grown up coaching on fields like that for a long time. You get spoilt as you get more professional, but the players are professional and they know it’s going to be a tough job. But they know what they have go to do in order to take the points from this game.
“I think it was around this time last year that we actually played Durham anyway at that ground and the fans were raucous…it was a really good atmosphere. It’s very close to the pitch as well so it’s a really good psychological test for us.
“We’ve got to do what we can to try control the game as much as possible. Then, without a doubt, we have to defend the good play that Durham put out. We’ll try our very, very best, our hardest and I’ve got players who are also vying to get into our team. Hopefully it’s going to be a really good space for us.”
How good are big attendances for Conti Cup games?
“It’s great and I remember [the Durham game] last year, it was a really good atmosphere. It makes it their home and a real tough place for people to go.
“But I think if we want to be successful, we’ve got to relish challenges like that. You almost have to turn the psyche the other way and go, ‘Right, everything is trying to go against us, so dig in, show what qualities we have as players, absorb the crowd’s energy and try and use it against them as much as possible’.
“You know just how loud our fans were too…they travel in their numbers too, so it will be a really good game, I’m sure.”
Full-back transfer plans
Is full-back a position you have any depth concerns with?
“It’s definitely something we’ll look at. When I looked at how we could structure these next few [transfer] windows, I always wanted to hit the front line first so that we could win games of football.
“The beauty is Leah [Galton] could easily be a wonderful left-back as well…that’s the strength of her. With Ona [Batlle] not there, you’re always going to miss a world class full-back, but I though Maria [Thorisdottir] did a great job coming in [against Leicester]. Also Maya can play at full-back. We have that depth and ability. It is something we will address going forwards, for sure.”
Does the expectation from fans bring extra pressure?
“I said when I first came here that pressure is just part of this job. The way you use pressure is your choice. I want the fans to be expectant, of course I do. But our fans are also very aware of how we’re growing, what we’re trying to achieve here, the performances, the types of wins we’ve been getting, four clean sheets in four league games.
“They’re aware of all the winning points that we’re progressing with. Like them, we want to win as well. The pressure is part of what we do and it’s something we enjoy and part of everything that is our DNA at Manchester United. We welcome it.”
Where does the Conti Cup rank as a priority for Man Utd?
“It can be a real springboard, we know how important a cup like this can be. I want to stress we’re not taking it lightly even if we’ve made adaptations to the team against Villa and the team against Durham – that’s not taking the opponent lightly. But the players we’re bringing are of the calibre that should be starting players.
“For us, it’s about keeping balance and the rhythm within the team, but also giving very good players the opportunity to play. Against Villa, we should have won the game. I don’t think we performed particularly well, but we should have won the game. We had a chance in the last couple of minutes to really cement and then you lose a penalty shootout.
“It’s important that we take this game as serious as we take any other game. But also I’m really excited to see what some of the other players can do.”
How do you get team selection right in the Conti Cup?
“It’s always difficult. I’ve tried to ramp up the pressure on our team by having better players…more experience.
“I must stress this, the players we had last year were excellent and we’ve got a lot of young, really talented players who are now on loan to make sure they still progress. But this year we’ve added the experience as well.
“It’s always difficult to select teams. There are loads of game plan points – what are the opponent going to give us? How do we want to play in this game? Who is fresh, who isn’t? What does the next game look like? But we always focus on the task at hand and that is Durham. As difficult as it is, once the team is picked I’m absolute looking forward to what they do and supporting them in their success within that game.”
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Source : 90min.com