Women’s Super League mid-season review: No 1, Manchester United
Manchester United had an impressive first season in the Women’s Super League, finishing fourth when the campaign was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But they were still a way off the top three of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, leaving themselves a 16-point gap to bridge if they were to challenge for the title in their second top flight season.
Now, four months into the 2020-21 campaign, it is safe to say they are unquestionable title contenders.
Unbeaten in ten games, top of the table, five points from last season’s top three and a clear belief that they can win a first WSL title in their history.
Ella Toone, Leah Galton, Jackie Groenen and Millie Turner have stepped up as genuine world class operators to gel with new signings Christen Press and Tobin Heath to form a real force in the division.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at their season so far and what they will have to do in 2021 if they are to win a first league title.
League position (last season at Christmas in brackets): 1st - 26 points (4th - 15 points)
WSL record so far this season: P: 10, W: 8, D: 2, L: 0
Season highlights: 1-0 v Arsenal/2-2 v Man City
Manchester United’s first major win of the season came on November 8 when they ended Arsenal’s 100 per cent start with a 1-0 victory at Leigh Sports Village.
Toone netted the winner seven minutes from time to give the home side a well-deserved victory and propel them to the top of the table.
Since then, Man Utd have dropped just two points in the league, building on that significant victory with a strong run-up to Christmas.
And those two points dropped felt more like a victory for Stoney’s side.
That’s because just six days after their win over the Gunners they battled back from 2-0 down at half-time to snatch a point in the Manchester Derby against Manchester City.
Heading into the break with a mountain to climb, the 2018-19 second tier champions emerged with a renewed sense of belief and immediately went on the front foot.
Heath fired in an outrageous strike nine minutes into the second half to give Man Utd real hope, before Kirsty Hanson scrambled home from a corner 16 minutes from time to salvage a precious point.
Key player: Tobin Heath
Just three days after an impressive opening weekend draw with champions Chelsea, people stood up and took notice of Manchester United as serious title contenders when they signed World Cup winners Tobin Heath and Christen Press.
And while Press has shown her quality in patches, it is Heath who has caught the eye throughout the first ten games of the season.
The American midfielder has scored four goals and assisted two more in just eight WSL matches, the joint most goal contributions in the Manchester United team alongside Ella Toone.
It is her pace and driving runs from deep which have provided the space for the likes of Toone and Leah Galton to run into.
The Red Devils managed 24 goals in 14 games before the WSL campaign was prematurely ended last season, compared to the 27 goals they have already netted in just ten games so far this season.
Heath has to be credited as a major reason why the team are scoring more goals and why only Arsenal have hit the back of the net more times.
Biggest tests to come?
Man Utd are one of two teams yet to lose in the WSL so far this season, with Chelsea the other undefeated title contender.
If the Blues win their two games in hand they will move level on points with the league leaders, so it could well be that Emma Hayes’ side prove to be their main rivals in the fight for the title
And Stoney’s side still need to travel to Kingsmeadow, a fixture which stands out as the toughest test they have to overcome if they are to be crowned champions in May.
Chelsea have not lost a WSL match in 30 games, a run which stretches back to their defeat to Birmingham in January 2019.
Man Utd travel to Chelsea on January 17 in a mouthwatering WSL clash as Stoney’s team look to avenge their 1-0 defeat there in the 2019-20 campaign.