Title challengers? Stoney's Man Utd show they have the character to be in the conversation with City comeback
Manchester United’s many title-winning, history-making teams over the years have always had three things: top-quality players, incredible character and an excellent manager.
And while Stoney will play down their title chances – such is her style of management, not letting the team get too high or too low –Saturday’s 2-2 draw with local rivals Manchester City showed their credentials in a new light.
On the opening weekend, in a 1-1 draw with reigning champions Chelsea,Stoney'sstrengths were highlighted in her decision to use Jackie Groenen as a super sub, rather than a starter, as she came on and put the equalising goal on a plate for Leah Galton.
Last weekend, they dominated and beat 2018-19 champions Arsenal,who have one of thebest players in the world, Vivianne Miedema, leading their line. It was a game in which Tobin Heath and Christen Press, their World Cup-winning duo, shone, before Jess Sigsworth showed a real moment of quality with her unbelievable speed to create the winning goal for Ella Toone.
This time, as United showed their character more than ever before. After trailing 2-0 to City at half-time, they looked down and out. In truth, City should have led by more, such was their dominance and the number of chances they had.
But the manner in which United got back into the game was a credit to how much they’ve grown as a team since being promoted to the top-flight last summer.
“I've got to be really honest, I don't think that would happen last year,” Stoney admitted after the game.
“At 2-0 down, you can fold. They didn't. They went out, they put their shoulders high, they knew what they had to do and they did their job brilliantly.
“I have to say I’m probably prouder today than I was on Sunday beating Arsenal, because of the shift in our mentality and the strength and resistance of the group.”
Last season, it was a case of same story, different day when United faced the big three. They lost narrowly by a 1-0 scoreline to each of Arsenal, Chelsea and City in their only three games against them, before the season was curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This season, having played all three of them at home already, they’ve taken five points from a possible nine.
With that, they remain top of the WSL, just 800 days after Stoney took charge of her first United game.
In that time, it’s evident that Stoney has grown as a coach too. Seeing that her side's press, which had worked so well against Arsenal last week, wasn’t working in the first half against City, she held her hands up at half-time and made the tweaks necessary to match United’s belief that they could fight back.
That mixture of Stoney’s tactical nous, the players' belief, and the quality on the pitch –Heath’s strike to pull a goal back and make it 2-1 was a world-class effort from a world-class player –has many tipping them to crack the top three and even challenge for the title.
Ask Stoney if they are in the race though and she’s keeping her feetfirmly on the ground
“If I'm honest, it's another game and it keeps us in and around it,” she said, having responded to a question asking if they are in the title race with a resounding “no”.
“We're just going to try and stay in and around it for as long as we can. We have to take every game as it comes.”
It’s the cliched answer that managers give when they are fighting for trophies that maybe some didn’t expect, but it’s also an indication of how Stoney works.
If United can find the consistency they lacked at times last term, in defeats to teams like relegation-battling Bristol City, there is no reason why they won’t finish in the Champions League places this season.
Source : goal.com
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