Everton Women return to WSL action this weekend with a trip to high-flying Manchester United at Leigh Sports Village, as the Blues look to banish the memories of last week’s frustrating defeat to Birmingham City that saw Brian Sorensen’s side exit the Vitality Women’s FA Cup.
The Red Devils currently sit at the top of the table with just one loss in 11 league games. Everton’s Lucy Hope does not feel the result of the fixture will define the Toffees’ season though, and believes her club is building something that will hopefully one day match the big four.
“They (Manchester United) are at the top of the league for a reason,” she said. “They have had a few very consistent years and have really grown as a club. With the signings they have made, they are a force to be reckoned with. We, as a club are chasing not only them, but also the top four.
“And we want to stay in the top half to make sure that we are in and around the chasing pack.
“I think what Brian has done so far in a short spell has shown a lot of progressive. Will the result at the weekend be a defining moment in our season? I don’t think so as we are not where at the same stage as they are but certainly in the next few years, I think this will be a flip of a coin in terms of a result.”
Emily Ramsey, who is ineligible to play against her parent club, is the only new absentee alongside Toni Duggan. Katrine Veje continues to make good progress but is again not ready. The Blues will also be missing Kenzie Weir, who has joined Championship side Lewes on loan until end of season.
Courtney Brosnan will start in goal and will almost certainly be joined by Royal Blue Mersey’s pick as Player of the Season so far, Gabby George. The defender was named was named the Barclays Women’s Super League Player of the Month for January, and will be hoping her outstanding form continues throughout the season. With Veje’s injury and the opposition, George may well be deployed as a wing-back in a back three system as Everton will be looking to play on the counter attack against Marc Skinner’s side.
And hoping to benefit from those counters will be the in-form Jess Park, who, as a Manchester City loanee, will be desperate to put one over on United.
Skinner’s team are the ones to beat currently and will go into this fixture as firm favourites. Unbeaten in the WSL since November, Alessio Russo has five goals in nine and ties the top of her side’s scoring charts with former Blue Nikita Parris, who gave her side the lead against Everton when the sides met in October.
As well as being the league’s second-highest scorers, United also boast the joint-best defence with only six conceded. Backed by England international Mary Earps between the sticks, another former Everton star, Millie Turner, has contributed to one of Europe’s finest and most resolute rearguards.
A Russo double ensured a home win in this fixture last season. Claire Emslie had fired the Blues in front after four minutes but a battling performance that day couldn’t prevent a 3-1 defeat.
The Blues have done battle with their hosts twice already this season, losing both, but Sorensen’s team is learning, growing and know full well that, as the underdogs, they have nothing to lose and that all the pressure is firmly on the league leaders.