Manchester United fell to a very disappointing 3-1 loss to rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford, as they failed to upturn what has been a rather inconsistent run of form in the WSL season.
While they had beaten Everton 5-0 in the cup in their previous game, their run in the league had seen them win only twice in their last five games and Marc Skinner’s side had to pick up a win to get those inconsistencies to rest. But the task was going to be uphill and everyone knew that.
Mary Earps started in goal and United’s backline was a familiar one. Hannah Blundell started at right-back, alongside Maya le Tissier, Millie Turner and Leah Galton started at a slightly unfamiliar left-back position. Lisa Naalsund started alongside Katie Zelem in midfield, with Melanie Malard, Ella Toone, Nikita Parris and Geyse starting in the front four.
City’s start was blistering. In the very first minute, they brought about an aerial threat to the plate and while they couldn’t get a shot away, United seemed rattled. And City’s high press left United struggling to impose control throughout the half, denying the Reds any authority in midfield.
Five minutes later, Alex Greenwood’s header landed at the roof of the net as City posed more problems aerially. United just hadn’t got going, as they struggled to link up in any way.
The Reds found some joy on the break in the 15th minute. Malard broke through from the halfway line and set through Toone on the left, but the England international’s shot was blocked firmly at the edge of the box.
Two minutes later, City found space behind United’s defensive line. Shaw was set through on goal and was away from Le Tissier and Turner, but her shot was saved by Earps.
But just when things seemed to be going City’s way, United won a penalty in the 20th minute after Malard’s shot her weaker foot smacked Greenwood’s arm. The referee took some seconds, but rightfully awarded a penalty. Katie Zelem, as is usually expected of her, found the bottom corner despite Khiara Keating getting a hand to it.
City nearly capitalised on more set piece chaos in the 27th minute. United failed to clear a corner and Greenwood did pull the plug on a shot but it was blocked by Geyse. There were appeals for handball, but nothing came of it.
At the half hour mark,it did seem as if United had doubled the lead through Geyse. Put through by Naalsund, Geyse tried to set Malard through in the middle but after the attempt was cut out, Geyse scored from a tight angle but the goal was disallowed as the ball had gone out before the Brazilian scored. It was a huge chance for her to break her duck for the Reds.
City, who were the better team until that point, did draw level soon. Chloe Kelly did really well to set Jill Roord down the middle and the Dutch star finished easily enough for the equaliser.
Soon enough, things got worse for United. Only a minute later, Zelem lost the ball in a dangerous position and City nicked it off easily. After Shaw’s shot was blocked it fell to Lauren Hemp, who easily curled one into the far post to beat Earps. City probably deserved the lead.
Kelly could’ve put the game to bed in the 41st minute. She was put through on goal brilliantly by Leila Ouahabi and Kelly’s fierce shot was parried for a corner by her England teammate Earps.
It didn’t get better in the 2nd half for United. And it was another defensive error that brought about Shaw’s goal. Le Tissier’s back pass to Earps was a bad one and while the goalkeeper did get to it, her thump forward came off Shaw and trickled in. While Earps could’ve done better, Le Tissier’s bad pass put her in a lot of trouble. It was simply a case of bad football all around and Old Trafford was silenced.
United did get a boost in the 72nd minute. Laia Alexandri had tugged Lucia Garcia back on what looked like a promising counter attack and the Spaniard was shown a second yellow card. United had not done much of note until then in the 2nd half and the second off provided them some hope of a comeback.
Garcia did let loose a fierce effort from distance in the 79th minute but it was parried out for a corner. The sending off did help United gain some momentum, but it didn’t prove to be enough.
The 95th minute saw United get a chance to pull one back. Substitute Jayde Riviere was through on the right and tried to chip Keating, who made a save and parried it. That was the last of the threat from United, who fell to their first defeat of the league campaign and remained at fourth in the WSL table.
The inability to play through the press was a concern in the game and this didn’t just make it a bad evening for the midfield, but the backline also suffered, bringing further doubts about the side’s build-up shape, which has already been in question this season.