Manchester United have firmly established themselves as one of the WSL’s elite more than ever this season, and are seeking to dismantle the top three that have not changed since 2015.
With that will come Champions League football for the first time, the obvious next step for a club that has always wanted to compete with the best since reforming a senior squad less than five years ago and starting in the second-tier Women’s Championship.
United made light work of the Championship in their first season, before promptly rising through the WSL and finishing fourth in the table behind Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City three years in a row.
Leah Galton has been at United since day one, was drafted into the original squad, and has been a huge part of the club’s progression over that time.
With Champions League football now more clearly on the horizon if United can maintain their form and performance levels from the first half of the season, the excitement becomes all the more real.
“All I wanted to do was go out [Champions League] Melody theme on the field. I think that would be a childhood dream if we could make it happen,” says Galton 90 minutes.
“I just aim for that goal. Obviously it will be great to play against other opponents and see where our team stands against other great teams around the world.”
United have already had a small taste of this type of action, playing pre-season tournaments against Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich last summer and beating the former.
But getting to this point was not easy. Under the management of Casey Stoney, United finished just one point behind third place Arsenal in 2020/21, agonizingly close. A year later, they finished fourth again under Mark Skinner, eventually eclipsed by Manchester City after slipping away from home several times – dropping six points from their winning positions late against Tottenham, Everton and West Ham, while a draw was also acknowledged. late. Against Arsenal and City.
The 2022/23 campaign was different. United did win their winless games away from home last season – among them, beating Arsenal away in the WSL for the first time. They were disappointed to only draw City, as they had never taken a point away from home against them in the league before.
The mentality has changed and there is a winning mentality that wasn’t there before.
“I think we had confidence in us this year,” Galton says. “I feel like the group of girls we have is strong and the new girls who came in this year have obviously been a great addition to our squad. We have depth now and feel a little more confident going into the big games and the big weeks.”
Galton describes herself as being “really upset” after the derby, a 1-1 draw at Etihad Stadium in front of over 40,000 fans. She scored United’s goal, before City eventually equalized.
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“Looking back now, it was a very even game and it could have gone either way, for sure. But, at the moment, I felt like in the last ten minutes we were on top and I felt like this was our chance to take three points and give us a bigger gap.” A little bit,” explains the 28-year-old.
Galton is excited to face City again later in the season as a result.
“Last season, we were going to have those games, like: ‘Let’s just not lose…let’s try and take a point.'” That was kind of our mentality, whereas this year, it was very much: “We’re going to win this game and we’re going to make sure we do it well.” Good,” she says.
“It’s just that when you look at the table and see another contender in the top three, it feels best because that’s your team and you know you built it when it was in the tournament below and now, up there with the bigger teams.
Now you know you’re getting points [off rivals] – You beat Arsenal and draw with City. Obviously we lost against Chelsea, but it’s good to be in the squad and I think we deserve it. We have a good enough team to be there and we just need to keep getting the three points and make sure we don’t hold back in games that we really should be winning.”
There are a number of factors behind progress at United. It wasn’t always like that, but now this is a group of experienced players, whose core has been together for a long time. Galton, along with the likes of Katie Zelm and Marie Erbes, are not new to the WSL, but all three are arguably playing the best football of their careers at the moment.
“We’ve been playing together for a while now, so I think we have a good understanding of each other on the field and I think that definitely helps,” Galton explains.
“More between me and Zell because I’m closer to her on the field, so I know when she’s going away, I know when she wants someone on her feet. I think we have a very good understanding. Even with Mari, even though I’m not close to the backline, I still “We’re in good contact with her on long kicks and going for the counters. Time has given us that extra advantage.”
United has been known to have a stable team throughout most of the season. But it’s the competition behind the scenes from a busy summer transfer window and other new faces in January that has helped keep the rookies on their toes. “A little bit of self-doubt thinking I’m going to be good enough? But then you have to prove yourself on the pitch.”
United’s players also thrive from a well-known fanbase which is increasingly filling their Leigh Sports Village home stadium and traveling to away matches in droves. Many players adore that level of support, and Galton, who is dedicated to an infuriatingly catchy chant, is no exception.
“To be fair, when I hear my chant, I end up singing… I wake up in the morning, which is really bad, but it’s really catchy,” she jokes.
Field [Boe Risa]It’s good and Hayley Ladd is great because [the fans] I just want 12 Hayley Lads at the end of the song, and that’s the best thing for me.
“I love them all, to be fair, they did such a good job with the songs.
“Just the fan turnout is amazing. You hear them all game—they don’t stop for more than 90 minutes. I don’t know how they have a voice in the morning… They probably don’t know, and it’s incredible that they come in and do that. You hear every single person, even all the kids.” .
United sold enough tickets to open all four stands at Leigh for back-to-back home matches against Chelsea and Liverpool either side of Christmas, which Galton admits gave her ‘good goosebumps’ as she entered the pitch surrounded on all sides by fans.
Even more than that, it makes her want to “win for my team in front of all these people.”
It is this drive to succeed and those earnings that will eventually get Galton and United to where they dream of being.
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