Nikita Parris is already proving the doubters wrong at Manchester United, having already bettered her WSL goal tally from last season with Arsenal just five games into the 2022/23 campaign.
Parris has in part benefited from usual ‘number nine’ Alessia Russo missing a handful of games through injury, but her very presence in the squad is indicative of the type of depth that United lacked this time last year and what manager Marc Skinner was so keen to address in summer.
In Russo’s absence, which began before the September international break and ended when she came off the bench in Sunday’s win over Everton, Parris has stepped into the void and made the most of her chances to contribute to the club’s 100% start in the WSL.
Scoring in her last two WSL starts, the 28-year-old has netted three times in all competitions so far, all very different types of goals. Her first for the club came in the Continental Cup against Aston Villa, a thunderbolt from distance, before a header to decide the recent win over Leicester and a poacher’s tap-in to break the deadlock as United breezed past the potentially tricky Toffees.
Arsenal paid decent money to bring Parris, who was named FWA Footballer of the Year as recently as 2019, back to England from Lyon in 2021. But things never clicked in north London, with her only WSL goal last season coming from the penalty spot in the closing stages of the campaign.
She was never quite the right fit for Gunners under the style that Jonas Eidevall implemented following his appointment last summer and it showed on the pitch.
Her disappointing numbers in Arsenal colours initially led to some scepticism among sections of United fans as soon as a switch north to Manchester was mooted during the transfer window. Yet in the early weeks of 2022/23, Parris has proven she can still be an invaluable asset.
For United boss Marc Skinner, the change of ‘context’ for her has been key to the resurgence.
“It’s not necessarily whether a team is good or bad, it can be the context for a player,” he said.
“At Arsenal, [she had] limited playing time and [the team] played a different way. That probably didn’t get the best out of Nikita. That’s the context. That’s not Arsenal’s fault or Nikita’s fault. So change the context.”
Parris, whose movement in United’s big win over Brighton helped create openings and chances for others, suddenly looks far happier on the pitch than she did in an Arsenal shirt.
“She’s smiling again and what a character she is,” Skinner remarked.
Parris herself recently spoke about the closeness in the United squad, revealing it is not like anything she has ever experienced. That may go a long to also explaining her improved form on the pitch.
The former Everton and Manchester City star has described the United squad as being like a ‘sisterhood’ and said: “I’ve never been in a team where we could all walk into a meal room, sit anywhere & the conversation still flow like no other. That’s what’s really cool about this team.”
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