James shines in smash-and-grab victory for United | Match Review

Image via MUFC


The first group games of the Continental Cup were in full swing this weekend, but perhaps the most anticipated game of all was that of Liverpool v Manchester United.

While Liverpool's summer squad rebuild saw them acquire a wealth of experience, it was United's return to women's football after 13 years that was grabbing headlines - and with the cream of the crop when it comes to young talent, there was much to be excited about.

The game started hesitantly but it was United who dominated the majority of the first half, with Liverpool coming into it on top of half-time. An impressive goalkeeping display from Liverpool's Anke Preuss saw her save a one v one against Sigsworth along with beating away a signature Greenwood free-kick that was otherwise destined for the top corner.

All 3 of Stoney's substitutes were positively attacking, the first of those coming at the beginning of the second half with England international Ella Toone replacing Mollie Green who, at times, looked a little lost on the pitch despite some moments of brilliance. Despite making a change, United seemed completely out of their depth as the second half began. Liverpool picked them apart at times and the inexperience of this team showed during shaky moments.

Eventually getting back into the game United began to find their feet and create dangerous chances, perhaps the closest of those coming in the 70th minute after second substitute Galton was through one v one with the goalkeeper but after one touch too many, allowed Preuss to make another great save.

After having little to do, Chamberlain really showed her quality by making a potentially game-winning save in the 77th minute doing well to get down low and save a goal-bound shot to deny her former club.

The breakthrough eventually came 5 minutes later when Galton played through Greenwood who flashed the ball across goal where Lizzie Arnot was waiting to tap it in, scoring a historic first goal for Stoney's team.

 
Video via BT Sport


A frantic United team had to watch Liverpool come close with a free-kick that painfully hit the post and rolled along the goal line before being cleared - and then a further 5 minutes added time. Stoney and her built from scratch side saw out the victory professionally with a late substitution and keeping the ball in and out of play as much as possible.

While the pitch was scattered with youth and experience, it was 16-year-old Lauren James who shone in her 88-minute debut. Coming through the ranks at Arsenal, who is arguably one of the biggest clubs in women's football, it was quite the coup for United to sign the youngster ahead of their inaugural season. But with only a preseason under their belt, some may have questioned why Stoney went for the 16-year-old to be the anchor of her midfield ahead of someone with more experience, but it was very evident early on in the first-half why Stoney put all of her trust in James.

In the first half, James controlled the midfield and Liverpool simply could not cope with her. Her composure was beyond her years, and the physicality she possessed to be able to keep the ball in the manner she did was incredibly impressive. Perhaps the most exciting part of James' game is her ability to keep the ball in tight areas and turn defence into attack from these positions, which she showed a great deal of over the course of the game. Despite a much quieter second half, James still remained an attacking threat and was at the forefront of a lot of United's goalscoring opportunities while maintaining excellent defensive discipline. It's evident she possesses the qualities and attributes of a world class midfielder and is likely to become one of the best in years to come. To be 16 years old and perform the way James did today was quite remarkable. Composed, creative and unbeatable.

Another standout performance in the United side came from Millie Turner. An unsung hero of the defence, she brings equanimity to the back line and won every single battle she was in on the pitch today. Her experience, composure and willingness to put everything on the line to defend the United goal is what made her standout amongst the rest - very impressive.

Despite the hype around the game, there were significant moments throughout the 90 minutes when it felt a little lacklustre with both teams going through stages of being unable to get a grasp of the game.  One thing that must be said on behalf of the United women is that even when things weren't going their way, they fought for the badge with great tenacity which eventually paid off for them. The passion and togetherness of the squad were evident in the celebrations of Arnot's goal, showing just how much this means to them. As some United fans would agree, watching a team fight for the badge so furiously was an absolute breath of fresh air.

A winning return to women's football for United allows them to take all 3 points from arguably their most difficult Conti Cup group game against none other than their arch-rivals. Momentum will surely build from here on out - lots to build on but equally lots to be optimistic about.

Brimming with youth and winning games at the death - Manchester United Women are officially back. 


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