‘We’re here to be role models,’ explains Manchester United’s Marc Skinner ahead of Everton Conti Cup clash

Held to a 2-2 draw against Brighton on the weekend, Manchester United will now turn their attentions to Thursday’s Conti Cup fixture against Everton – a side they comprehensively beat at Walton Hall Park just two weeks ago.

But Marc Skinner is expecting to face a different challenge when his Red Devils welcome the Toffees to Leigh Sports Village, telling reporters in his pre-match press conference that he doesn’t ‘expect it to be the same type of game.’

‘Everton will rotate, we’ll be seeing some other players playing substantial minutes. When I look at it, I’m really pleased with all of our performances whether it’s league or cup – we’ve outperformed all of our statistics from last season already.’

‘We’re creating more chances, like you see in the Brighton game, we just need to finish them – and against Everton we did that. Hopefully we can do that, but the way that Everton play, it’s always difficult. Even in that game, we had to work really hard off the ball to stay in the game so I’d expect that to be the same. It’s going to be a good game and if we want to progress, we’ve obviously got to try and take the three points.’

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A break from the Barclays Women’s Super League offers opportunities for Skinner to rotate his side, and he acknowledges the importance of rotation given the difficulty of their Conti Cup group. ‘We enter every competition to try and win it,’ he explains.

‘We know it’s gonna be difficult – we’ve got probably the worst group in terms of the most difficult group, so that’s going to be a challenge in itself to navigate, especially because it’s coming in between two league games. I think there’ll be some ability to rotate because I’m actually quite excited to see some of our other players play as they get up to speed because as we get towards Christmas, we’re going to need everybody anyways. It’s a competition that we enter to win but we’ve got to navigate a really difficult group that most don’t have to.’

Many Manchester United fans have been impressed by Phallon Tullis-Joyce in pre-match warmups across the country, but they’re yet to see the American shotstopper in competitive action. Skinner was full of praise for his summer acquisition, telling reporters that she ‘has been great. Some of the saves she makes, the forwards stop and actually admire the save rather than following the rebound at times!’

‘She’s got this amazing athletic ability, but what I’d say is, and this is key, is that she’s learning a lot about our game and how we play. The main difference from America is that there’d be a lot more direct play with her feet, whereas the way we play is more of a buildup strategy and the ability to mix direct. She’s learning a lot, and what I see every day is that although she hasn’t played a game yet, I see her growing and loving what she’s doing.’

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‘I actually feel that she’s ready and we’ll be able to use her against Everton. I’m sure there’ll be a few nerves but she’ll get over that very quickly, she’s a top-level goalkeeper.’

Fans are also keen to see Rachel Williams earn more minutes on the pitch, given her goalscoring exploits as a late substitute. Skinner insisted that it’s not always that easy though, given her age – but remained full of praise for the forward.

‘I’ve known Rachel for a long time – she’s effervescent, she’s like a child running around a field, but she also is 35 years old. Me and Rachel have got a really clear understanding, so there are chances especially in the Conti Cup for us to get her minutes – but I want to make this as clear as possible, you can’t jump from playing 27 minutes to playing 90 minutes.’

‘The physical mode is too much, and if you risk her, then you don’t have the ability to bring her into games and change games. She’s the best at it. I have nothing but not only personal respect but admiration for the way that she plays the game. In fact, I’m actually more of a romantic because I remember what it was like before we became professionalised and she was part of the reason why I love football – it’s that attitude to never give up, towards fight and that’s what I build my team around.’

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‘Rachel knows where she’s at, and it’s more risk-averse for her so we can keep her playing the important part she plays. Hopefully in the games coming up, you’ll see her start – but it would be unrealistic for us to think she can finish those games too.’

But understandably, Skinner was also quizzed on two topics dominating the headlines in the women’s football world away from Manchester United – Emma Hayes’ decision to leave Chelsea, and Gareth Taylor’s comments on Jonas Eidevall’s sideline behaviour.

On Hayes, Skinner commented that ‘her decisions are very well thought out and she’ll think this is the right time for her and probably Chelsea. The one thing I’ve learnt about Emma is that even when she won the title last year, for someone to do the job for that long and to keep the energy of the team is very difficult. I think she probably felt that having a fresh challenge for herself would probably reinvigorate her.’

‘What it does mean is that this year especially, Chelsea will want to give her the sendoff she deserves, she’s left a legacy in women’s football in England so I think we all strive to do that in our careers. Not only has she won, but she’s been able to build teams over time. I’m sure Emma would be the first to say she’s had the financial support from the team to do that.’

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‘She’s turned her players into a machine. I have admiration for what she’s achieved – it’s hard to keep rebuilding and rebuilding teams, and I think she’ll leave a lasting legacy on women’s football within England. We’re not particularly close friends but actually there’s a lot of respect between us, and I wish her the very best. I’m sure she’ll go on to have an excellent new role that is reportedly going to be somewhere else, not in England.’

When asked about the touchline behaviour of his managerial counterparts, Skinner was careful to avoid taking a side – instead emphasising the need for respect. ‘I wasn’t at the game,’ he explained.

‘I know there are occasions when we’ve played against each other, there’s passion that runs high on the side. But look, I wasn’t at that game and if it has spilled over then we as coaches need to make sure we stay within the lines and stay within the respect levels needed for the game. It’s hard for me to comment on that situation but there’s times where I’ve been over-passionate.’

‘What I’d say about Gareth [Taylor] is that if he’s seen what he’s seen, he’s a trustworthy character and I’m sure he’s seen things that he might not like but maybe Jonas [Eidevall] has seen the same. What we have to do, and this is our responsibility as coaches, we have to stay within the guidelines of respect. That’s our responsibility and we’re here to be role models for the next generation and our players and fans. I’m sure it’ll get sorted out but I’m sure you’ll remind me of that if I ever overstep the mark!’