Manchester United’s summer recruitment ahead of the new WSL season was firmly targeted at adding fresh attacking options to the squad after agonisingly missing out on Champions League football at the end of the 2021/22 campaign.
In the end, United were ultimately five points back from Manchester City in the race for the top three, having consistently occupied third place from early March to early May. It may seem like a big final gap on paper, but the margins at stake were so fine.
United conceded late equalisers in the final 15 minutes of games against Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester City and West Ham. Against Tottenham and West Ham, it was in stoppage time with virtually the last kick of the game, while Arsenal and City had each had players sent off.
United were also unable to crack a resilient Aston Villa defence in a 0-0 draw in the final stretch of the season. Even ignoring the Arsenal and City results, for which a point in each might have been considered acceptable before kick-off, failure to kill off Spurs, Everton, West Ham and Villa cost United eight points and was ultimately the difference between third and fourth.
Manager Marc Skinner, who was appointed only five weeks before last season began and had minimal time to prepare with a largely inherited squad, often spoke in the second half of the campaign about the importance or having more options to unlock stubborn defences.
As such, this summer was always likely to be a busy one for the club.
Even though defensive signings in Aissatou Tounkara and Maya Le Tissier are vital to strengthen a back-line that was left paper thin by injuries last season, United went into the summer with a plan to equip Skinner with the attacking talent he felt he needed to win the games his team couldn’t before.
The likes of Nikita Parris, 2019 FWA Footballer of the Year, and Rachel Williams, inaugural WSL Golden Boot winner, have been there and done it before. Adriana Leon is proven at club level in the United States, at international level with Canada and two years of WSL experience of her own.
Of all the new arrivals, Lucia Garcia is perhaps the one that fans may know least about so far but also the one that most closely ticks the boxes of the ideal signing Skinner wanted to juice up his attack.
“With Lucia, she’s just electric,” the boss told ManUtd.com as the squad arrived in France for a high calibre pre-season tournament against Paris Saint-Germain and either Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
When United were frustrated by Aston Villa and couldn’t score the crucial second goal against Spurs, Everton or West Ham, they lacked the ability to really test and stretch their opponents.
Ella Toone can play in tight pockets centrally and United already have Leah Galton flying down the left wing. But sometimes it wasn’t enough and they needed more. Garcia, along with Parris, Williams and Leon, all of whom offer something slightly different, now provides that.
Having started Spain’s three group games at Euro 2022, both on the right and centrally as a false nine, Garcia in particular could be someone to also get fans off their feet with her direct style.
“[She’s] somebody that I feel our fans will really engage with. She can invade back-lines, she can take the ball one v one; another strategy to beat a stubborn defence,” Skinner explained.
“We found ourselves against a lot of blocks last year so adding her ability to invade lines at the right time [is good]. [She] also adds competition to this team and it keep us on the edge, and that’s what I’m looking for.
“I want this team to play on the edge every week, so that we can express exactly who we are and really challenge the status quo above us and make sure that we put ourselves in the best position to be successful this year.”
Once pre-season is over, United will start their 2022/23 WSL campaign against Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 10 September. The first home game will follow a week later when Reading visit Leigh Sports Village.