Sunday, July 3

Ella Toone reveals ‘turning point’ for Man Utd in competing against WSL’s big three

Exclusive – Manchester United star Ella Toone has highlighted last season’s WSL win over Arsenal as a ‘turning point’ for the club in their ongoing ambitions to challenge the league’s established ‘big three’ sides for domestic silverware and Champions League football.

The club only made the decision to reform a women’s first-team squad in 2018 but quickly rose to the top flight after blitzing the Women’s Championship in their inaugural season.

Still less than four full years into the project, United are battling for Champions League football once more after missing out by just a single point in 2020/21.

United had impressed in their first ever WSL campaign in 2019/20, which was ultimately cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, but it was notable that they consistently fell marginally short against the league’s established giants – Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Their very first two WSL games were 1-0 defeats to City and Arsenal in successive weeks in the autumn of 2019 – the former won with a world class strike from distance and the latter with a scrappy late goal. United also lost 1-0 to Chelsea later in that same campaign.

Having surprisingly beaten City in the Continental Cup as early as October 2019, the breakthrough in the tougher league setting finally came against Arsenal at Leigh Sports Village in November 2020.

Looking back, Toone considers it her favourite game for the club to date because of the mental shift it brought and the belief that came from it. Arsenal had started the season with a 100% winning record, with United ending that streak and going top of the table themselves in the process.

“The game that stands out is Arsenal last season when we won 1-0 and I scored the winner,” Toone tells 90min. “I think it was a turning point for us in mentality that we could go out there and take points off top three sides. For me, obviously, scoring was massive.”

Toone’s winner came late in the game, with a low finish nestling in the net off the post. A week later, United fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against City, before fatigue and injuries in the second half of the campaign resulted in defeats to all three bigger rivals.

This season, United haven’t had it all their own way against Arsenal, Chelsea and City. Some feared a regression, concerns worsened when they were thrashed 6-1 by Chelsea in a surprise collapse in manager Marc Skinners’ second home game in charge.

Yet City and Arsenal have both needed late equalisers against United more recently in 2021/22, while a late Alessia Russo header against the Gunners in the Continental Cup earlier this season also marked the first time they have beaten one of the ‘big three’ away from home in any competition.

Even if they again fall short in the race for Champions League football, they know they are incredibly close to consistently challenging the WSL’s biggest clubs on a more even stage.

90min spoke to Ella Toone in collaboration with Manchester United’s Official Electrical Styling Partner, Remington – check out their Manchester United Styling collection here.

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