Ella Toone suspension will test Man Utd depth

Manchester United have the most settled starting XI in the WSL this season, with Marc Skinner having made only nine changes to his team in 13 games so far. But the United boss must now rely on the depth in his squad to cover for Ella Toone while she is suspended.

Toone has started every WSL game for United this season, playing the fifth most league minutes of anyone at the club. She has seven WSL assists to her name, with only Chelsea’s Guro Reiten (9) ahead of her and only Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly creating more chances (34 vs 29).

But a suspension now looms for the England star the other side of this month’s international break following a red card in the hard-fought win over Tottenham at the weekend.

Toone shoved Spurs midfielder Eveliina Summanen out of frustration while on the ground after an initial foul and subsequent coming together. Skinner was unhappy with the role Summanen played in the incident, suggesting she was guilty of making the most of Toone pushing her in the shoulder.

“Maybe play-acting is a tough word but actually the reality is there is no need to roll around holding your face, right? There is no need,” Skinner said. “You want to see passion for your club. Yes, it is a foul and probably a yellow card with the tackle from Tooney but there is a tangle of legs. Maybe there is a little bit of frustration and we have to be accountable for our actions.”

The reality of the situation for United is that Toone will be banned for the next three games, the standard punishment for serious foul play or violent conduct under FA competition rules.

In that run, United will face Durham in the FA Cup at the end of this month, before games against Leicester and Chelsea in the WSL. Losing Toone for the latter is a particular blow if Skinner’s team, currently top of the table, are to genuinely challenge the Blues for the league title this season.

Over the last 18 months, United have recruited with the intention of building depth in the squad in order to compete with the WSL’s biggest sides. So far, the impact of that has largely been increasing the level of competition for starters to push them on. Now, however, with Toone out of action until the end second half of March, the depth is needed to plug a gap.

The most likely beneficiary is Vilde Boe Risa, who has unsurprisingly been unable to get ahead of Toone in the pecking order so far, while question marks on the defensive side of the ball have prevented her taking a deeper midfield role. That has had the unfortunate side effect of limiting her game time this season mostly to cup games, but Skinner has always been quick to praise the technical quality that the Norway international possesses.

“Sometimes you have to be patient,” was Skinner’s message to Boe Risa earlier in the season.

The player has typically done well when called upon this season, notably scoring twice in the first half against Everton in the Conti Cup group stage in December.

“Her quality has always been there, I’ll never doubt that with her. Her attitude is brilliant, she’s a great person, lots and lots of qualities,” Skinner added at the time.

Other options include repurposing Nikita Parris or Rachel Williams as a number 10. January signing Lisa Naalsund, who has been described by the boss as a ‘monster of transition’ may also be ready to come into the fold by the time the Chelsea game comes along, having had to essentially repeat a pre-season following a lengthy lack of action since the Norwegian season ended in November.

Either way, United will soon be without one of their best and most influential players for several weeks at a crucial stage of the season and will have to find a way to adapt.

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