The fourth Manchester derby of the season beckons on Sunday afternoon as Manchester’s United and City face off once again at Leigh Sports Village, this time with a spot in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup quarterfinals at stake.
Caroline Weir’s superb solo goal sealed a vital three points for the blue side of Manchester on home soil just a few weeks ago before the international break, and both clubs were left with very few senior players to train with during the past two weeks with an array of friendly tournaments going on around the world in preparation for this summer’s European Championships.
Both sides had north of a dozen players away and while the majority have come back unscathed, some even with a shiny new medal. Their return from duty on Thursday, however, has left both Marc Skinner and Gareth Taylor only a day to work with their squads ahead of another crunch clash on Sunday.
“The first thing we have to do is assess them when they come back in,” said United head coach Skinner. “As you can imagine, there’s a lot of tiredness coming from different areas, different countries, but the majority of them have been in England, which is good.
“Today was just about re-engaging with them on how we play because they’ve been away with lots of different styles, so it does affect it and it will affect Manchester City too I suppose. It’s something both coaches will have to take into account but as long as people are healthy and fit, we’re good to go. It will be a part of the game, but it’s the same for everyone.”
City head coach Taylor echoed Skinner’s remarks, particularly the emphasis on ensuring his returning players quickly adapt back to his and the team’s style of play after going away with their international teammates and coaches.
“We managed to get some time on the pitch today,” he said on the day he celebrates his 49th birthday. “We had players in various types of international setups. Players in Portugal, players in Spain, players up and down the UK and obviously Bunny [Shaw] over in Grenada. A lot going on but everyone’s come back looking good and fresh and it’s just a case of realigning ourselves with what we do as quickly as we possibly can. You never get much time post-international break, it’s good to see them again and there were some successes there, obviously with England, but also Filippa [Angeldal] with Sweden, too.”
Taylor expanded and admitted while it’s not ideal to have so many players away ahead of a big one-off game, which will see one team exit the FA Cup on Sunday, he and his staff have prepared as much as possible but have to take into account the physical state of all the players ahead of selecting his side to face United this weekend.
“Well, I think you do a lot of your work during that international break. You’re trying to make contact with a lot of players, a lot of staff from our side making contact with staff regularly at the various national teams, just so you’re ahead of the curve in terms of what’s coming. That’s really key and really important. For us as well, for players who don’t attend these games, we’re able to put in some good individual time with these players, so for me it’s part and parcel of the game. The demands on these players now is really high; you look at the amount of international camps, domestic competitions, Euros, Olympics, or a World Cup, it’s big demand, so it’s trying to make sure we get the balance right between wanting them back with us as soon as we can but also making sure they get some kind of breathing space from a mental and physical point of view.”
While Taylor appears to have got the majority of his squad back unscathed, United head coach Skinner has concerns over influential midfielder Hayley Ladd after the Wales international limped out of her nation’s first game of the Pinatar Cup with a suspected hamstring issue.
Ladd has been pivotal for United of late and Skinner admitted he doesn’t know if she will be available for Sunday, while Aoife Mannion, Lucy Staniforth. and Jade Moore also all remain doubts.
“We’re ongoing with that, whether she makes it for this game or not I don’t know. We’re still assessing her and once we’ve got that, we’ll put that out and everyone will know.”
Taylor may not have any short-term injury concerns, but he did admit City is likely to be without captain Steph Houghton for the rest of the season after the defender underwent further surgery on an Achilles injury that has hampered the majority of her campaign so far.
The England captain initially returned from the injury for City but after experiencing further discomfort, Houghton will now likely miss the rest of the campaign and her absence will cast further doubt on her chances of making the European Championships this summer.
“It was something that needed to happen unfortunately, the surgery,” said Taylor. “Steph had got herself to a position where she just didn’t feel right. I felt when she came back in the new year she was looking really good, but was just having some real discomfort between games. When she was out on the pitch she was okay, but the stuff in between she was really struggling.
“It’s unfortunate, but I think Steph’s a warrior, she really is, the way she’s handled it and how she’s acted in terms of her rehab through the season and she will be exactly the same again. We’ve had good contact with her at the moment, she’s in a pot post-operation. As for timescale, we just don’t know, I’ve been in contact with Sarina who is obviously having regular check-ins with Steph as well. We’ll see, we’ll see, it’s obviously looking very unlikely that we’ll see her again for us this season, but knowing Steph I wouldn’t put it past her to be back in a shorter time than we might anticipate, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.”