Former Manchester United goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain has praised the work Casey Stoney has done in terms of developing players to help the team become Women’s Super League title contenders.
Under boss Stoney, United won the Championship in 2018-19, their first season as a professional outfit, then came fourth in the WSL last term.
And ahead of Friday’s derby at Manchester City they are second, three points behind leaders Chelsea.
Chamberlain, who played at club level and for England alongside Stoney and was with United from 2018 before retiring last year, told the PA news agency: “It’s definitely happened a lot quicker than I think a lot of people would have expected.
“I don’t think people would have necessarily thought they’d be competing for the title (this season).
“You look at Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City – the strength in depth they have is probably better than Manchester United.
“But what United have done well is use the squad they’ve got and developed them. Casey has developed those players, those young players who probably weren’t recognised as much as they are now.
“She’s developed them into quality players that are performing week in, week out, and that’s one of the biggest things, the consistency of performance that you’ve seen from Manchester United this season.”
Ella Toone, 21, is among those who have been key for United this term – she could make her senior England debut against Northern Ireland later this month after being included in the squad announced on Tuesday.
Chamberlain also has no doubt a major factor in United’s progress has been Tobin Heath, who joined in September along with fellow United States international and World Cup winner Christen Press.
Winger Heath scored four goals in eight WSL matches, including one in November’s 2-2 draw with City, before sustaining an ankle injury that Stoney last month said would keep her out for “around 10 to 12 weeks”.
Chamberlain said: “I think she’s been outstanding. You saw when City were 2-0 up the way she invigorated that team and drove them on. I think she’s a huge miss for them.”
While Chamberlain feels United may well fall short of the title following Heath’s injury, she is confident they will finish in the top three, to secure Champions League qualification.
United are two points ahead of third-placed City and nine clear of fourth-placed Arsenal having played a game more than both.
Chamberlain – speaking before Arsenal’s 3-0 loss at Chelsea on Wednesday – said: “I think if United had Tobin Heath and (fellow injured forward) Alessia Russo, they are two players that could give them that cutting edge to help them win the league. Without them, I’m not sure they necessarily have the strength in depth.
“I think they will definitely be up there in that top three, and if they get that, I’m sure they will be delighted.”
United head into Friday’s game, which Chamberlain thinks is one “the whole women’s football community and football in general…is really looking forward to”, aiming to bounce back from a 2-0 home loss to Reading on Sunday.
:: This season BT Sport is showing more Barclays FA Women’s Super League matches than ever before. Watch Manchester City v Manchester United on BT Sport 2 from 6.30pm on Friday February 12.