Their second-place finish in the Womens Super League last season not only put a target on their back domestically but was the magic key to open the doors to European football.
There&aposs no doubt this balancing act between the league, FA Cup and Champions League is going to put Marc Skinner under pressure. Last year he defaulted to the same 10 starting players plus a different right-sided winger – Lucia Garcia or Nikita Parris – and was even mocked by opposing managers for such predictability.
Skinner insisted he didn&apost need squad rotation with only 22 league games, plus five in their successful FA Cup run. But things will have to change and he knows it.
The Champions League will be a huge test. They enter the prestigious tournament at round two alongside two-time winners and four-time runners-up Wolfsburg, two-time runners-up Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Sparta Praha and BK Hacken.
Were talking about facing German giants Alexandra Popp, Lena Oberdorf and Sveindis Jonsdottir at Wolfsburg. Marie-Antoinette Katoto, Ramona Bachmann and Lieke Martens of PSG. Hayley Raso, Linda Caicedo, Caroline Weir and Olga Carmona of Real Madrid to name but a few.
Then there&aposs Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Caroline Hansen. Ada Hegerberg, Eugenie Le Sommer, Danielle van de Donk and Kadidiatou Diani of Lyon.
How can United contain that kind of world-class talent with a back four with limited international experience, let alone any Champions League pedigree? Unaccustomed to the tiki-taka style of most other clubs, under more pressure than ever, this will be their biggest test yet.
Ask the fans and they think United have what it takes to do some damage. Kind of like how Aston Villa tore about the WSL last year, with the potential to leave devastating carnage in their trail.
Okay, Maya Le Tissier narrowly missed out on a World Cup call-up, but Millie Turners international career halted after Under-23s and Hannah Blundell hasnt seen international action since 2018. Of course, there is Welsh and Northern Irish flair in Gemma Evans and Aoife Mannion, but can they take the heat?
Because even domestically United havent quite managed to keep Sam Kerr quiet. The Australian got beyond Le Tissier in the FA Cup final and again in the league. Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly, Tottenhams Beth England and Chelseas Lauren James also belong on that list.
That aside, the Reds conceded 12 goals last campaign, the lowest in the entire league. Surely with that stat comes a pinch of confidence? The Le Tissier-Turner duo worked well, the former stepping into a challenge, the latter edging off for the second ball, both unflappable in and out of possession, and full-backs flying high.
Well, that was until Ona Batlle jumped ship and Skinner traded Turner for Mannion at centre half – that connective spark vanished within a heartbeat. On top of that, inviting young Canadian Jayde Riviere to step up to the plate, with little experience of the top flight or English football, let alone the best of the best in Europe.
So, Skinner has about a month to rally his players, to stabilise the back and unlock the creative freedom up top connected with flawless transitions, otherwise, how will they keep the likes of Barcelona at bay?
These sides are in a whole other world to the likes of debaunts United.
Were talking 118 domestic goals in 30 games for the current champions, conceding only 10 last season. With a goal tally of 41 in the Champions League alone. Lyon finished their season on 79 goals scored and only eight conceded in 22 league games.
Running the risk of being too negative, if the players Skinner has available fail to contain just one Kerr or Daly, then how does he even begin to put together a plan to handle sides boasting a whole team of Kerrs and Dalys.
United&aposs saving grace is Geyse. She scored four goals in 10 Champions League games last year when she won it with Barcelona. The only other players with that kind of calibre are Mary Earps, who was part of the Wolfsburg squad in the 2018-19 season that finished runners-up, and new signing Emma Watson from Rangers, who saw Champions League action in 2022.