KATHRYN BATTE: Man United have had their best season in the WSL so far

KATHRYN BATTE: Manchester United have had their best season in the WSL so far, but must secure Alessia Russo and Ona Batlle to remain contenders… while Arsenal have no plans to remove white shorts from their women’s kits

  • Manchester United have had their best season so far – but they must look ahead
  • Arsenal have no plans to remove white shorts from their kits for the time being
  • And clubs and countries must give and take in the World Cup availability battle 

Marc Skinner will tell you that Manchester United have achieved nothing this season, yet. He’s right. They could finish the season with two trophies – the league title and the FA Cup.

But equally, they could still finish fourth with no silverware. The second option feels unlikely. Even if they were to lose against Manchester City, their superior goal difference should see them finish third at the very least – providing they win their other two games.

What is certain is that United are having their best ever season. They have equalled their highest ever points tally in the WSL with three games to play and are in their first major final at Wembley.

It is clear there has been a shift in mentality. Their last minute winner against Aston Villa on Friday showed as much. United would have drawn that game last season.

There have been a handful of similar matches that have ended with late winners for Skinner’s side. Players now believe they can finish in the top three when perhaps they did not before.

Marc Skinner’s Manchester United have had their best ever season in the WSL this term

Millie Turner’s late winner earned Man United a valuable three points at Aston Villa on Friday

Skinner spoke of a gap between United and Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City last season. Those clubs have occupied the top three places for the last eight campaigns.

‘There’s a gap. That comes from investment — continued investment — and time,’ Skinner said in November 2021.

‘The concern is very logical. We need to invest in the players and continue to invest so we can be where we want to be.’

Fast forward 18 months and that gap has narrowed, perhaps even closed. But much of that is down to Skinner’s work in the dug-out rather than United splashing the cash. 

And while Chelsea and Arsenal have been hit with injuries to key players, that should not overshadow how far United have come.

What is pivotal now is ensuring Skinner is allowed to build on this season. That starts with securing the futures of their most important players – Alessia Russo and Ona Batlle. Both are out of contract at the end of the season. 

The club must work to secure the futures of Alessia Russo (L) and Ona Batlle for next season

Russo was the subject of a world record bid from Arsenal in January, which United rejected, and is understood to have interest from other WSL clubs as well as teams abroad. 

The striker has the potential to become one of the world’s best players. She is a lifelong United fan. To lose her would be a huge blow. 

Russo has not made a decision yet and there is no doubt that United securing Champions League football will be key. 

There are other considerations, like whether Russo sees herself progressing better elsewhere and, of course, money. 

The best players deserve the best wages and it is no secret that United have not been in the same league as other clubs when it comes to budgets.

Whether United can keep Russo has dominated the transfer talk for the last six months but arguably Batlle is just as important. The right back is joint top for assists in the WSL this season and is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the world. 

Man United booked their place in the Women’s FA Cup final with a late winner over Brighton

Now Skinner and the team at the club should show a clear plan for progression and investment

Barcelona and Chelsea are long-term admirers but there will not be a shortage of clubs wanting to sign Batlle in the summer.

It would not break the bank for United to make Russo and Batlle the highest paid players in the WSL. The club should do everything they can to keep them. 

That includes showing them there is a clear plan for continued investment and progression. 

If United finish in the top three, win the FA Cup and put the best offers on the table and both players decide they want to leave, at least they’ll have done everything in their power to hold on to them. 

Not doing so would be a betrayal of everything Skinner and his team have worked for. These players and the coaching staff deserve reward and backing. 

Millie Turner and the rest of the squad celebrated the late win over Villa with the travelling fans

More importantly, so do the fans. When the final whistle went in United’s dramatic victory over Villa, players rushed over to their jubilant away end to celebrate.

Skinner, his players and their supporters know they are close. They still have to finish the job but they need assurances that doing so will bring reward.

Arsenal have no plans to switch from white to dark shorts after England and a number of clubs made the change over players’ concerns around periods.

The Lionesses swapped white shorts for dark blue when their new Nike kit was released this month while Manchester City changed to burgundy earlier in the season.

But the Gunners will keep their traditional white shorts for the foreseeable future.

Arsenal’s traditional white shorts will remain part of the women’s kit for the foreseeable future

England and Manchester City have moved away from white shorts due to period concerns

A club spokesperson said: ‘We’re in regular conversations with our players on matters relating to their health and wellbeing and this is a topic that we discussed with them over the summer and have revisited during this season.

‘At present, this isn’t a significant concern for our players and they are comfortable with the base layers they wear under white shorts. We will, however, keep this matter on the agenda should their feelings change and continue our support for our players, working closely with our partner Adidas, to ensure they are able to perform at their best and remove any anxiety.’

It is understood that Arsenal would be ready to implement a change straight away should players wish to do so.

The European Club Association (ECA) has told national associations that players will not be available until 10 days before the start of the World Cup. 

Clubs are concerned that players will not have enough rest between the end of the domestic season and the start of the tournament, with some countries having already scheduled warm-up games for June. 

Clubs only have to release players for international duty ten days before the World Cup in July

England’s pre-World Cup training camp is meant to start in the middle of June before travelling

England are due to begin their pre-World Cup training camp mid-June and a send-off fixture is expected to be announced before the squad fly to Australia on July 5. 

But with the tournament starting on July 20, the ECA are adamant players should not be called up before July 10 – which is Fifa’s mandatory release period. 

Is it too much to expect clubs and national teams to compromise? Expecting managers to prepare for a World Cup in just 10 days feels ridiculous but some players are already at breaking point. 

There needs to be dialogue and a little bit of give and take. Is that too much to ask?

Salford City’s Louie Barry saw his red card for violent conduct rescinded after replays showed he had barely touched Walsall’s Joe Low, who rolled around on the floor holding his face. 

Salford City’s Louie Barry saw his red card rescinded for this incident with Walsall’s Joe Low 

A similar incident involving Eveliina Summanen saw the Spurs player banned for two games

The question, then, is will Low face the same punishment as Tottenham’s Eveliina Summanen? 

The Spurs midfielder was given a two-game ban for deceiving a match official after holding her face when Ella Toone had pushed her in the chest. 

The two incidents are no different but it seems Low, who played in Walsall’s 0-0 draw with Crawley on Saturday, will face no further action. 

Why should it be one rule for the men’s game and another for the women’s?

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