Manchester United Women vs Bristol City Women preview: Reds aiming to start second half of season on a high
Photo by Edward Payne/VAVEL Images

The winter break is over, and Sunday's round of games will be opened at Leigh Sports Village, in what will be the first-ever competitive meeting between Manchester United and Bristol City.

United currently sit fourth in the Women's Super League table, and have won each of their last four Barclays FA Women’s Super League home games under Casey Stoney, a victory against Bristol would see them become the first ever newly-promoted side to win five successive home games in the competition.

Bristol's have been in the top division of Women's football for much longer, and in their time have lost three of their five Women’s Super League meetings with newly-promoted sides (W2), tasting defeat against Tottenham earlier in the season.

Team news

Manchester United have an entire squad eligible to play on Sunday, except players who are out for the long-term.

Similarly to United, apart from Bristol's long-term injuries, Tanya Oxtoby will have a full side to select from. The Vixens signed young centre-back and regular Wales international Elise Hughes from Everton on loan until the end of the season on Friday, and she could come straight into the squad if her manager sees fit.

Predicted XIs

Manchester United: Earps; Harris, Turner, McManus, Turner; Ladd, Zelem; Galton, Groenen, Sigsworth; James

Bristol City: Baggaley; Pattison, Evans, Matthews, Sargeant; Brown; Wellings, Chance, Wilson, Daniels; Salmon

Key Clash: Ebony Salmon vs Mary Earps

Ebony Salmon will make her first appearance against United since she left Sheffield United at the end of last season.

Salmon, who is only 18, joined United when they were formed at the start of the 2018/19 campaign. After not being handed any chances to appear for the first team, she departed on loan to fellow FA Women's Championship side Sheffield United, where she went on to score seven in her nine games.

She has been in fine form this year, and her play up front has provided excellent firepower for the Vixens. She could be the difference on Sunday.

United goalkeeper Mary Earps will act as the reds' last line of defence and will be crucial if they are to take all three points.

Since she made the move back to England from VFL Wolfsburg, she has quickly become a fans' favourite, and many are calling for her to play for England. On her first game in the WSL, she excelled in keeping out everything bar a Caroline Weir wonder-strike from rivals City in the Manchester Derby and has been crucial in helping the side to their current fourth-place spot.

Just like Salmon, she will also be playing against one of her previous clubs. Between 2014 and 2015, Earps featured for the then Bristol Academy 28 times.

What both sides have said

Casey Stoney told the Manchester Evening News that she was happy with her side and is not planning to bring in any players during the transfer window:

"Not at the moment. I’m happy with the squad I’ve got.

"We might be potentially looking at a couple of loans for players who need to go and play for some of the younger players."

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The squad has impressed Stoney since she joined, and she explained how her management side has developed:

"It’s been an absolute whirlwind. I learnt a lot about what I have to manage away from the grass," Stoney said reflecting on the past 12 months. "There’s an awful lot more to do away from the grass, managing people, managing different personalities and staff.

"The grass is where I feel most at home, I love coaching and working with the players. I’ve learnt that every single player is different and have different ways of working and it’s my job to get the best out of them."

Centre-back for Bristol City, Jas Matthews, has urged her side to reflect on their form in the first half of the season and use it as motivation on Sunday:

“You often want to just to forget about bad results, but it’s difficult. We have to park it to some degree and then use it as motivation moving forward as we head into a New Year.”

Since she made the return from Liverpool in the summer, she has been one of the strongest players and has solidified the heart of the Vixens' defence

“I’ve loved being back at the club, it’s home for me and it’s great to be a part of this group.

“I’ve got on the ball more this season as a centre half and it’s great for my growth as a player to try and pick out more passes with the way we’re looking to play. It’s my first season playing under Tanya and I feel I have learnt a lot from her adding to my overall game.”