History was made under a strong autumn sun as Manchester City welcomed Manchester United to the Etihad stadium for the classic British kick-off at 3pm on Saturday in front of a record crowd of 31,213 people.
This was a hugely anticipated game, as the well-known City-United derby on the men’s side has always been a huge fixture, this was bound to be on the same level. Being the more experienced side in the Women's Super League, it was clear that City were the favourites going into this game.
United, on the other hand, were the clear underdogs, having only been founded in 2018 and promoted to the WSL last season. But with a strong squad of new signings integrated with their top players retained from last season it was clear that they could not be counted out.
Roebuck saving City in the first half
It was intense right from kick-off and both teams were rolling the ball around a lot, moving and trying to read their opponents. Although playing at a higher level of football than they’re used to, United were looking comfortable and in the first half, they were the ones pushing the most, finding their way through the City defence several times and challenging them. The best chance in the first half came from Katie Zelem finding space in between the City defenders and getting a shot off of a cross from Jane Ross, but goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck pulled off an amazing one-handed save to deny the United captain.
City did well once they had the ball and were more straightforward in their approach. It wasn’t to be in the first 45 minutes. Forward Janine Beckie had a few breaks, but nothing concrete. Demi Stokes brought a lot of energy offensively in addition to her defensive duties and was able to contribute to a lot of the build-up for City by breaking down that wing.
The Red Devils' new signing Jackie Groenen showed exactly why she’s been so oft-talked about, with a high work rate tracking back as well as the ability to execute those passes that cut through the City defence, she provided a lot of coverage for her team. The first half ended with both teams having had chances but United had looked like the ones closer to break the deadlock, showing more willpower and bringing the energy.
Weir showed her class
City came out recharged and determined whereas United were caught on their back heels only a few minutes after kicking off. Caroline Weir picked up the ball outside of the box, found herself some space and fired off a left-foot shot that whistled past goalkeeper Mary Earps and into the far right corner. It was an act of class which only further energised City who controlled the game. United tried to claw their way back in but never really found their way back to the pace and the ball-rolling they’d demonstrated in the first half.
The best chance that United found themselves in was as Groenen charged towards goal, edging past a few City players on her way, only to stumble in the box, unable to get the shot off. However, as the City defence tried to clear the ball it deflected off Aoife Mannion and hit the post, almost edging its way in but Roebuck managed to get a hold of the return.
City kept most of the control throughout the game, which gradually slowed down. That suited the Citizens just fine as they passed the ball around. New signing Lee Geum-Min came on for the last 10 minutes of the game, showing off her potential, and United’s 17-year-old Lauren James was also handed her WSL debut, but she did not manage to create much of a threat up top.
Don’t count United out
United’s Earps played her first WSL game and had a good shift in goals, but was clearly struggling with some injury problems and had to be attended to twice during the game, which does not bode well for the 26-year-old. Roebuck showed great composure at the opposite end of the pitch and her fantastic one-handed save kept City in the game in the first half. The new signings, for both teams, look very interesting and it'll be exciting to follow throughout the season.
Although City were the stronger team in the second half, it’s clear that United are here to stay. For such a newly established team coming into the top flight for the first time, they showed a lot of maturity and potential to do a lot of damage in their maiden WSL season. But once City settle into the rhythm and demands of the season they’ll be difficult to stop.
City’s manager Nick Cushing commenting on the game: “Whether it was the first game of the season or it was hangover from the international break or the occasion, I didn’t think our level was as high as it could be but I thought for the second half for 25 minutes at the start we really showed our level and how we can push a team back and how we can dominate the ball and create chances and we know that’s our level.”
On Caroline Weir’s match performance: “I know that’s a cliché but she’s got an incredible ability, she can be world-class offensively. She’s got good vision, she’s got really high technical ability and she sees things other players don’t see but, she has to turn that into performances on a match day, and she’s re-payed that today, but we push her hard and I think that she can contribute offensively for us because she can dictate the game.”
Weir herself was asked whether she’d ever scored a better goal than that one, to which she answered: “No I don’t think so, not that I can remember, and obviously delighted to get on the scoresheet but delighted that we got three points as well.”
“It was huge, a great occasion and a privilege to be a part of, a bit of history we created today. The girls really enjoyed it, it was obviously a tough match but we’d like to thank the supporters for coming out“ she continued.