Manchester United manager Marc Skinner has declared that he never wants his team to ‘fear’ trying to play the ball out from the back and insists isolated mistakes in key moments can be fixed following a first WSL defeat of the season at the hands of Chelsea.
United went into the heavyweight clash against the reigning champions off the back of five consecutive WSL wins, averaging 2.8 goals per game and conceding not even once.
In front of a bumper crowd at Leigh Sports Village, it was a closely fought and physical first half in which both sides had chances. United were well in the game at that point, until a misplaced pass from centre-back Millie Turner attempting to play the ball forward into midfield was picked off.
From that, Chelsea scored within a few seconds through Sam Kerr and then doubled their lead only moments later – a rapid moved from back to front – thanks to former United player Lauren James.
Skinner’s side pulled a goal back through Alessia Russo which had the potential to set up a seismic final few minutes, only for Chelsea to kill things off in stoppage time.
“We acquitted ourselves much better than we did against them last year. But we still can’t allow them to think quicker than us and move quicker than us in those moments,” Skinner reflected afterwards, alluding to a 6-1 home defeat to Chelsea 14 months ago.
“There are controllable moments we’ve let ourselves down in. We lost in moments where I and the team felt they could have done better.”
In terms of how United respond to this defeat, which sees the team slip to third in the WSL table, Skinner is looking at considered tweaks rather than major surgery as more huge fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester City appear on the horizon in the next few weeks.
“Players will make mistakes. What I have to make sure of as a coach is the thought process of that mistake because it was not the right time to [attempt that pass],” the boss said.
“But that isn’t why we lost the game. We lost the game on speed of thought and concentration. Those are fixable that we’re going to work at. What we’ll find out when we go into the analysis of this game is these are the moments that matter in big games.
“I don’t want my team to ever fear trying to play out [from the back] when it’s the appropriate time. But these are the moments where you have to take control in big games and that is what we will learn from, no doubt. Now we’re more competitive but there are edges that Chelsea have that we’ve got to make sure we get for the games coming up.”
Russo, having scored the goal that had the potential to kickstart a late comeback, didn’t actually finish the match when her team still desperately needed another one.
It was hugely disappointing to the thousands of United fans inside the stadium and many more watching on TV in the UK and around the world. Skinner was also dismayed at withdrawing her but explained it was necessary following a recent injury layoff and only recent return to action.
“When you’ve had a hamstring [injury], we need to make sure we look after Alessia,” he said. “I thought she was magnificent. It pained me as much as it pained everyone seeing her walk off the field. I would not have wanted to take Alessia off in that moment but it is where we’re at.
“The reality is we do not want that player to be niggled with something we can control. I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks when she comes back from international duty she will be up and ready for 90s.”
United have previously been careful with Russo’s fitness, giving her a couple of weeks to train before giving her minutes off the bench against Everton a week ago, as well as initially holding her back at the start of last season off the back of a long-term injury that had wrecked her 2020/21 campaign.
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