Manchester United captain Katie Zelem insists her side are relishing the prospect of facing neighbours Manchester City on Sunday in a vital Women’s Super League encounter which serves both as a quasi-Champions League qualifier and a crucial fixture in United’s bid for the league title.
United were beaten by Chelsea in Sunday’s FA Cup final thanks to a sole Sam Kerr goal and the Blues now top the WSL after beating West Ham United 4-0 on Wednesday. But with two games to play, Marc Skinner’s Red Devils sit just two points behind the leaders and with an outside chance of still claiming the crown.
And Zelem says that Sunday’s derby at Leigh Sports Village is a unique occasion in a unique season, with City still looking to topple United or Arsenal to claim a top-three finish and Champions League football.
“I don’t think the league has ever been this tight, and I don’t think there has ever been four teams challenging for the title,” Zelem tells The Sportsman. “Obviously now us and Chelsea are the ones that lead the way but it’s amazing to see how competitive the league is. But for us there’s two games left and we want to win them both.
“We relish them moments, we relish playing Chelsea, City and Arsenal whether it be at Wembley or it be at Leigh, and the Manchester derby has always got that little bit of an edge. We know that, and everyone else knows that, so we’re ready.”
While some neutrals are pinning their hopes on United beating Chelsea to the title, Zelem knows that even securing the one point necessary against City to ensure Champions League football would make the 2022-23 campaign a hugely successful one for a team which was only founded five years ago.
“Our aim was always to qualify for the Champions League, and everyone I speak to is saying ‘Yeah, but be honest, you want to do more!’ It’s amazing that we’ve surpassed it but that was always our target. We want to be playing at Old Trafford [on European nights], the pitch is unbelievable, the stadium is amazing and we want to be competing with the best teams in the Champions League.”
The Manchester derby at LSV kicks off at 6:45pm BST on Sunday.