Manchester United Women’s unbeaten start to the season came to an abrupt end at the weekend when they lost 6-1 to Chelsea Women, but Ella Toone believes it was a “blessing in disguise”.
“We’ve owned that loss,” Toone told Lynsey Hooper in an exclusive interview for Sky Sports. “We’ve come back into training, and we’ve worked so hard on the grass, and we’ve learned so much from that.
“That was the first time we’ve gone behind this season, so it’s really different. And we know now what we can do better.
“You can’t dwell too much and be too disappointed because games come thick and fast in this league, and you’ve got to switch your mindset on the next game.”
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Manchester United’s next match sees them go away to Birmingham City, live on Sky Sports, with the Blues yet to pick up a point this season. Toone stresses though that United will not be underestimating the Midlands side.
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“It’s so early on, and anything can happen in this league. Teams can take points off any team so you can never go into a game underestimating the opponent. You’ve got to treat every game like you’re playing the champions,” she said.
“So we’ll go into that game and stick to our game plan. We’ll play our football and style of play, and hopefully we’ll get three points.”
Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea
Toone was United’s top scorer in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League last year, and her success on the pitch has led to increased attention from opposition sides. But there is confidence she can handle the added focus on her.
“I just keep trying to get in the pocket,” she explained. “I’ll often make unselfish runs for other players to get on the ball. But that’s just about working on my game and having a different plan. And if something’s not going right, then not losing my head about it and just helping the team in other ways.
“I feel like I play the best football when I’m enjoying it. My team-mates know that as well, and they’re really encouraging and they want me to get on the ball.
“It’s going really well this season and everyone wants each other to do so well.”
It is a new look Manchester United this season, with Marc Skinner appointed as manager in July after Casey Stoney’s shock departure. Skinner has been effusive about Toone and her importance to the side since his arrival.
“He’s got a lot of belief in me,” Toone said. “I just want to keep improving and keep learning off the coaches, off the other players. It’s exciting to see how far I can go. But for me, it’s about keeping my feet on the ground and working hard.”
That hard work has already been paying off, with Toone receiving her first England start in the most recent international break.
“It was amazing. Playing for your country is really special but to get that first start was amazing. My family were there so that made it even more special. But playing for your country and wearing the badge and the shirt is always an honour.”
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It bodes well for Toone that she was handed her first start by England’s new manager, Sarina Wiegman. The Dutch coach, who won the 2017 Euros and reached the 2019 World Cup final with the Netherlands, took charge of her first international camp last month.
“She’s a great manager,” said Toone. “She’s won a lot with Holland so we know what she’s about.
“I like the style of play that she wants us to play. She wants us to get on the ball and play forward. I think we could do really well under her.”
Ella Toone recently made her first start for England Women
A childhood Manchester United fan, Toone wears the iconic No 7 shirt associated with such club legends as Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. But she insists she does not feel the weight of its responsibility.
“I think you play for the badge. There’s been a lot of amazing players who have worn that [number], so for me, it’s been an absolute honour. But we play for the badge on the front of our shirt.
“I love No 7. I always had it on the back of my shirts when I was growing up with Ronaldo on the back. It’s been really special to have been given that number and be the first No 7 for Manchester United Women. But, I’ll wear any number as long as I’m on the pitch.”
Toone might be wearing Ronaldo’s shirt but it is a different Portuguese star who she has been drawing comparisons to. Bruno Fernandes’ long-range strike against Newcastle was mimicked by Toone when she scored the opener for United against Leicester City the next day.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win over Newcastle
Highlights of the FA Women’s Super League match between Leicester City and Manchester United
“I’ve been watching Bruno the past season,” said Toone, suggesting the matching goals were no coincidence. “He’s an amazing player and he wants to get on the ball and find those passes and take those shots. So it’s really good to watch him do it. And then obviously I implemented that into my game.”
Toone is not shy about delivering a verdict on the quality of each of the goals though. “I think mine was better!”, she laughs.
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