Man City 3 Man United 1 – Are City title favourites? Can United feel aggrieved?

Manchester City have moved three points clear at the top of the Women’s Super League after easing beyond rivals Manchester United in the derby in impressive style.

Jess Park’s first-half brace thrust Gareth Taylor’s side into a comfortable lead, for all that the visitors were unfortunate the first goal was allowed to stand. Khadija Shaw, receiving possession from midfield, was offside in the build-up but it wasn’t given and, with no VAR, the opener was allowed to stand.

The outstanding Park turned provider in the opening minute of the second half to set up Shaw for the team’s third. Kerstin Casparij’s unfortunate own goal offered United some hope of a recovery, but it proved too little too late.

The victory thrusts City three points clear of champions Chelsea, who will have to win at West Ham on Sunday to return to the top. Katie Whyatt and Carl Anka dissect the main talking points.

What does this mean for the title race?

This win means Manchester City could finish this weekend at the summit of the WSL table. Taylor’s side are coming to the boil nicely in the title race. Their unfortunate and unexpected elimination from both domestic cups within a matter of days could be considered a minor blessing as they power up the table.

It was Khadija Shaw’s goal — City’s third of the afternoon — scored 30 seconds into the second half that underlined the gulf in quality between themselves and the almost-rans in the league. City were too strong for United when defending, too fast when attacking down the wings, and too slick when working in the middle.

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Shaw celebrates scoring her side’s third goal of the game (Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images)

Marc Skinner’s decision to pair Lisa Naalsund with Katie Zelem in midfield left the visitors lacking a combative edge in the centre of the pitch. City exploited this by sending multiple runners from deep to attack crosses. A brace for Park, in front of the visiting Sarina Wiegman, added further gloss on an afternoon when Shaw became the club’s record goalscorer with 68.

City, Arsenal and United have all been burned by Emma Hayes’ Chelsea in previous WSL title races, but this season represents City’s best chance to win the league since 2016. They have a tricky run-in to close the season, including games against Liverpool next week and Arsenal on May 5, but they have the momentum.

They are in pole position.

Carl Anka

Will Marc Skinner still be United manager next season?

Marc Skinner turned 41 on Saturday. The 3-1 defeat made any possible celebrations difficult.

It’s been a disappointing season for the United manager as injuries and inconsistency in both penalty areas have made it hard to build on the second-place finish and FA Cup final appearance of 2022-23. Skinner remains one of the most successful managers currently working in the WSL and has done well to establish United as one of the better sides in the league, but there remains a noticeable gap between United and the three sides competing for the title.

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, there have been notable instances of dissent from the United fanbase this season, with a section believing he has taken the team as far as he can.

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Skinner is in the last year of his contract at Manchester United (MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

United started well at the Etihad, getting touch tight to Yui Hasegawa and disrupting City’s build-up play for the opening 20 minutes.

Yet, as the game progressed and players fatigued, United became looser in their passing. As half-time approached, Skinner was seen shouting, “Why aren’t they keeping the ball?” to his coaching team while City grew in confidence. He has 56 wins in 100 games in charge of this club but has only been victorious in the Manchester derby once.

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Ella Toone and her United team-mates look dejected (Matt McNulty – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Defeat on Saturday means Liverpool have a chance of leapfrogging Skinner’s side into fourth place this weekend. United have reached something of a glass ceiling this season and it remains to be seen whether Skinner or someone else will be entrusted to smash it.

Carl Anka

Should United feel aggrieved at City’s first?

I’m not sure exactly how big of a talking point that offside goal will be given City’s win ended up being pretty resounding, but yes.

It might be a bit generous to United to attribute their downfall to that particular refereeing error, especially given they benefitted from some of Hannah Blundell’s objectionable early challenges going unpunished. But you could argue it sapped United mentally — look at their positioning and body language in the build-up to City’s disallowed goal in the next minute — and it was a sucker-punch in a largely cagey first half.

More broadly, though, Park’s goal was a symptom of how City had started to dominate the central areas. The movement of Hasegawa, Laura Coombs and Park made that flurry of goals inevitable. United simply couldn’t cope with them.

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United’s Mary Earps cuts a frustrated figure (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Still, it makes for another WSL gameweek with a referee’s performance among the talking points. Had that been the decisive goal, the stakes couldn’t have been much higher. This is one of a handful of matches that will decide the title and for it to take place at the Etihad in front of 40,086 people, live on the BBC, rendered it even more visible.

WSL referees have improved since the PGMOL took over their training and development in the 2021-22 season. They benefit from dedicated sports sciences, coaches, physiologists and analysts now — improvements that have seen the refereeing pool double in size.

But, had Park’s opener been the winner, it would have made the calls for VAR in the women’s game, especially at grounds like this where the infrastructure is already there, so much louder. As it is, Park’s performance is probably the greater talking point.

Katie Whyatt

Will Wiegman have been impressed by Park?

Jess Park went into this game yet to score a WSL goal for Manchester City and, within the hour, had two and an assist to her name — all in front of the England manager.

In Chloe Kelly’s absence, this was a big game for Park and City. Without the Kelly-Hemp-Shaw trident that has proved so dangerous over the past year, they needed to find a new kind of combat. The 30-minute period where City dominated the central areas defined this game: Hasegawa purred at the base and the fluidity of Shaw, Coombs and especially Park unlocked a United defence that have yet to happen on the solidity that made them title challengers last season.

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Park converts her second of the afternoon (Matt McNulty – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

That fragility saw Park deliver two first-time finishes with the no-look nonchalance of an office worker flinging paper planes into a waste paper basket, and the reverse ball to Shaw for City’s third showed Park’s clear playmaking qualities. The strength to brush off United defenders was another positive that will have captured Wiegman’s attention.

She has competition for that in Ella Toone, Fran Kirby, Grace Clinton and Lauren James, who can also play that role when needed. Few in this ground, though, could take their eyes off Park today. Wiegman was almost certainly among them.

Katie Whyatt

What did the managers say?

Victorious manager Gareth Taylor on Park’s performance: “With a player of that quality, we have been talking about that final action. Jess is quick, the assists she has had and now she is getting goals — that is the icing on the cake.”

And on the title race: “We have always been confident, but the hard part is doing it. We are going against a title rival (Chelsea) who has been really successful over the years and we are trying to change that. But we have to take one game at a time and we don’t need to worry what happens tomorrow — we will be giving it our very best.”

United’s Skinner on the controversial opening goal: “It is offside. It is not a goal and it shouldn’t have stood. What can you say? It is a massive game, so to miss that call in a game like this… it changes the momentum and, in football, momentum is key.

“We controlled Manchester City. We were making Khiara Keating work way more than Mary Earps was having to work. We had more shots of quality than they did, but they got a goal and momentum changed. But I can only say I am proud of the players and the way they reacted — I am proud of them.”

What next for City?

Saturday, March 30: Liverpool (A), Women’s Super League, 12.30pm GMT, 8.30am ET

A repeat of City’s 5-1 home win in the reverse fixture in January will do them nicely here.

What next for United?

Sunday, March 31: Everton (H), Women’s Super League, 12pm GMT, 7am ET

United will be hot favourites here having beaten Everton 5-0 and 7-0, the latter in the Continental Cup, already this season.

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(Top photo: Matt McNulty – The FA/The FA via Getty Images))

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