"You’re Man United you got a target on your back all the time" - Casey Stoney ahead of taking on Brighton in the FA WSL
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Manchester United host Brighton & Hove Albion for their first competitve match since beating Birmingham City 5-2 three weeks ago.

Hope Powell's side played a Vitality FA Cup quarter-final match against Birmingham last Sunday, where her side came up short in penalties [2-4] after a regular time 2-2 draw.

On United's return to FA WSL fixtures, they're met with three matches in one week; playing Sunday, Wendesday and Saturday. Casey Stoney's side will travel to Liverpool for the Continental Cup and then go to London on the weekend to face Tottenham in the league.

"We've got a tough week and we've got three games in We play Sunday, Wednesday Saturday. That's a really tough schedule. Bearing in mind we haven’t played for three weeks," said Stoney.

"I've played for Hope for many years myself so I know what she's like as a coach and know how organized the group is, how they work extremely hard for their manager and for each other.

"They’re very organized and they've got threats going forward. It's going to be a difficult game for us, but one that we've been preparing really hard for one that we're looking forward to."

  • Birmingham was a learning curve

Stoney's side managed a 5-2 win over Birmingham after a big second half performance after finishing the first half 2-2. 

After holding Chelsea to a 1-1 draw at home, Manchester United focused on not becoming complacent against teams outside the top three and this Sunday will be another test to the squad.

Brighton have showed they're in the contention to break into the top three as well, they won their opening fixture and held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw away from home. 

"I said at halftime against Birmingham I don’t think our mentality was right going into that game, but we came out winners," said Stoney.

"It's a lesson for us. You’re Man United you got a target on your back all the time. You got to turn up prepared."

"You might have to be more patient against certain teams that might sit a little bit deeper and it's harder to break them down, but you can't conceive the goals that we did.

"That's the big difference in terms of that mentality and complacency. So was it a lesson we needed early on?

"Yeah, absolutely, but it can't happen again."

  • Busy schedule after three weeks out

It's been three weeks since Stoney's squad has played a competitive fixture. There was an international break in between their last league fixture and their next, which left the boss with a small squad to work with.

"Is it ideal that we've got Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, after having this much time off and only playing two games? No, it's not. I wouldn't have asked to front Load the league this way," said Stoney.

"Bear in mind the players have hardly played. But I can't complain because I've got a squad that other teams haven't got in terms of numbers.

"I just don't think it's a sensible decision to put a midweek [fixture] in and then potentially move our game from a Sunday to Saturday and give us even less recovery time."

  • On Katie Zelem testing positive

After getting her first senior England call up, Katie Zelem had to drop out of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19. After two weeks of quarantine, she is back in full training as of tomorrow but will not feature in Sunday's fixture.

Zelem has been monitored closley by club doctors and Stoney emphasized that it's been about controlling the player's cardiovascular system on her come back to full match fitness, almost like the process seen in concussion protocol.

"We’ve got stricter protocols at our club than any other club. We’re not letting them [the players] eat in restaurants, not letting them go get hair cuts, their nails done. We literally locked them down. It just proves you can pick it up anywhere," explained Stoney.

"We learned that our protocols are working which is important if somebody tests positive. We've got all the right things in place and it didn't spread through the squad which is massive.

"If you had three or four or five players test positive they're out of your games for three or four weeks, which most squads won't be able to cope with.

"People think you get a positive test, you quarantine for two weeks and you’re back out. It’s not like that, it probably puts a player out of action for at least a month really."

  • New signings fitting in well

Christen Press and Tobin Heath have yet to play their first WSL match since they were announced, but have featured with the squad for over a week now and are eligible to feature this weekend. Alessia Russo already got a glimpse of the league during the Birmingham match where she played the second half.

"I've been really pleasantly surprised with the way they've integrated and what they’ve brought into our environment, their mentality is one of the reasons we bought them in. They're winners, you know, you can see that in the training environment already.

"They're going to take a little bit longer to get up speed because they they've not played for such a long time. You can train on your own but you cannot replicate the game so we have to be patient with them." 

With Heath, Press and Russo being able to play in pretty much any attacking position, the big question has been where does Stoney put them within the squad?

"I think the luxury we have with with Tobin is that she can play at 10 or off either wing, Christen can play off either wing or in nine, so it gives us flexibility to rotate that front three if we need to.

"We play utilizing their strengths. And that's no different for any of our players. If there's a player that's really fast and wants the ball in space and why would we not utilize that? We wouldn't bring them inside the pitch into a congested area where they couldn't use it.

"We have a philosophy but it's also about utilizing every single player strengths within the game."

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