WSL title race: Marc Skinner believes Man Utd deserve more credit

Marc Skinner believes Manchester United Women deserve more credit for their achievements this season, and says they will be keeping an eye on Chelsea’s trip to Reading on Saturday’s intriguing climax to the Women’s Super League season.

While their chances of winning a first WSL title may be out of their hands, United still head into Saturday’s finale with an outside chance of lifting the trophy.

They are two points behind Chelsea and, should the Blues lose at Reading, live on Sky Sports, and Skinner’s side beat Liverpool, they would be crowned champions.

But even if they are to finish second, it has been a remarkable season for the red side of Manchester. They have successfully disrupted the WSL’s traditional ‘big three’, reached their first major cup final and are leading the way in a number of statistical categories.

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Manchester United head coach Marc Skinner says he is emotional after his side’s ‘beautiful’ team spirit helped them to victory against local rivals Manchester City

  • WSL title race: Chelsea and Man Utd battling for title on final day
  • WSL title decider: Reading vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports | Stream with a NOW pass
  • Women’s Super League table | Women’s Super League final day fixtures

Still, Skinner does not believe his side have been given the recognition they deserve despite significant improvements on last term – as well as running Chelsea close in two of the three domestic competitions.

“We’ve been exceptional this year, and I don’t think we get enough credit,” he said.

“There’s always a caveat as to why we’re successful, that is other teams’ injuries, other teams maybe having not the run they wanted, having Champions League and I get that. It’s a factor we’ll have to look at, but the players have been exceptional this season.

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“It’s not about where we finish in the league right now, that’s not the overriding factor. If you look at what we’ve done this year statistically, even with TV audiences, we’re the most-watched team.

“We’re growing up in front of the public eye, whereas other teams have already done that. This team, in a pressure cauldron, have not only performed well, they have won games of football.

“Maybe we’re still in contention to win it and if we don’t, we’ll finish second, but to do that and disrupt the top historical three – that’s a big season regardless of what happens elsewhere.

“So I want people to give this team and these players the credit they deserve.”

How to follow the WSL's final day on Sky Sports

Follow every game from the WSL’s final day on Saturday May 27 in our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports’ digital platforms as well as updates throughout the day on Sky Sports News.

Watch Reading vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1.30pm; kick-off 2.30pm. Watch in-game clips and free match highlights from this game on Sky Sports’ digital platforms shortly after full-time. 

Free match highlights will be available from the five remaining WSL final day games from midnight. 

‘We have to keep tabs on Reading vs Chelsea’

There will be eyes fixed on both Prenton Park and the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Saturday, with plenty on the line for three of the four teams involved.

Skinner says Manchester United will keep across developments in Chelsea ‘s respective fixture, but must first do their own job by beating Liverpool.

“I think we have to keep tabs on Reading vs Chelsea,” he added. “I don’t think we’ll listen to it with that much intent, but we’ll have an understanding of the scoreline and how the game is going.

Reading Women
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Saturday 27th May 1:30pm Kick off 2:30pm

“It has factors that might affect our game, but the reality is we’re not going to start that way, we have to win the game regardless.

“I think it’ll be more in-ear comms rather than watching the [Chelsea] game. I’m not really bothered about how they perform. It’ll be a tough ask for Reading, Chelsea have been excellent this season, especially coming towards the latter stages. It’ll be very tough for Reading, but we can all hope.

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Highlights of the Women’s Super League clash between Manchester United and Manchester City

“For us, you’ve got to build the success, they won’t give us anything with the way they defend as well. We need energy – we’ve had it all season and there’s no reason to drop it now. All we can try to do is win the game. Should it need different connotations, we need to adapt to that, but we’ve got to try and win the game.”

‘We have to be aggressive in our transfer targets’

Once Saturday’s game has finished – regardless of the outcome – attention will turn to reviewing the summer objectives as well as possible transfer activity.

Ona Batlle and Alessia Russo will be two players under the spotlight as United battle to retain their top talent, with Skinner also focused on bringing in players who can enhance his title-chasing squad.

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Manchester United forward Alessia Russo was named player of the year at the inaugural Women’s Football Awards

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He said: “The beauty of this year is that I’ve been able to offload some of those conversations [around transfers] to the business team because you have to separate it so I can manage a team effectively.

“That has allowed us, on the field, to do what we do – win games of football, break records and achieve what we’re trying to achieve. We’ve got to be busy, there’s no doubt.

“There’s a few ways to look at it and I think this is key – everyone looks at what world-class names you’re bringing in. But I always look at the back story of how that world-class player became a world-class player. Was it opportunity to play? Was it almost there, but they needed some time? Or the right coach or the right context?

Image: Ona Batlle has been linked with a move away from Man Utd this summer

“There’s also a balance between knowing the team that has got us where we are, who can and can’t continue on that journey, but also celebrating they’ve got us to where we are based on the levels.

“So I feel that we already have players that can step up to world-class level, but there’s no doubt we have to go into this window and be aggressive in our targets and try and add extra talent to this already-talented squad.”

WSL on the rise

  • According to FA statistics, WSL attendances are up 173 per cent this season compared to last, with the 2022-23 average up to 5,272 from 1,931.
  • The cumulative attendance for the current WSL campaign stands at 664,211 – all three of the highest-ever WSL crowds were achieved this term.

Hayes: Business as usual

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Chelsea women’s manager Emma Hayes says dealing with the final day pressure of winning the WSL title is ‘business as usual’ and there’ll be no extra pressure

Holding a two-point lead at the top, five-time champions Chelsea will secure the title for a fourth successive year – to complete a league and FA Cup double – if they beat Reading.

While Hayes’ side, currently on a six-match winning streak in which they have scored 24 goals and conceded one, are certainly well-fancied to do so, they are facing opponents battling for their WSL lives.

Kelly Chambers’ rock-bottom Royals need a victory to have any chance of survival, with them two points adrift of 11th-placed Leicester.

“The bottom line, it’s what we’re prepared for. We’ve only ever won the campaign by a couple of points at best, it’s business as usual for us,” Hayes explained.

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Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Arsenal

“I think everyone invests a level of money and has players that are top professionals, inevitably there will be a closing of the gap, which we have seen each year.

“The difference this year is that more teams have been at a higher level. It’s not like we’ve won leagues comfortably in the past, nothing is difficult from our perspective.”

’90 minutes from another title’

Image: Chelsea edged past title rivals Man Utd 1-0 in mid-May to put themselves in the driving seat for WSL glory

Reading pulled off a shock 1-0 win at home against Chelsea last season, before losing 5-0 and 3-2 in subsequent meetings at Kingsmeadow, and go into this contest on a five-match losing run, having conceded 16 times across their last four games.

“We don’t think about the loss last season – we are exactly where we want to be,” Hayes continued. “I want a first start, but doesn’t mean I get what I want.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a strong Chelsea fanbase. We need it. I have to keep reminding the team we’re 90 minutes away from winning the title and all of my energy is focused on that.”

When asked about what is required for momentum around the growth and popularity of the women’s game to continue, Hayes added: “Building on what we’ve already done. More games in men’s stadiums, growing attendances – no one wants to play in front of an empty house. The product needs to keep improving with players getting better. It’s about incremental improvements, not seismic change.”

Watch Reading vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1.30pm; kick-off 2.30pm

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