Casey Stoney believes Manchester United Women are ahead of schedule, but has insisted they will treat Saturday’s derby with Manchester City as just another game.
A 1-0 win over Arsenal last weekend sent the club formed only two years ago top of the Women’s Super League after six games.
It has ramped up the interest in this fixture even further with all eyes on whether the Red Devils can now topple their Manchester rivals and potentially in the long-term replace them in the top three.
“Obviously they did tremendously well in terms of building very quickly and winning things very quickly,” Stoney said of City.
“You look at that top three, who have dominated the game for so long in Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. To try and even break into that three was a target for us.
“We are probably ahead of schedule in terms of where we are at, but I said on Sunday it is just one win. It keeps us in and around it and we need to maintain our standards and levels and try to go again on Saturday.”
As Stoney’s side flourish, City are adjusting to life under Gareth Taylor, who took over from the long-serving Nick Cushing earlier this year, but he did guide them to a third FA Cup title at the start of this month.
Meanwhile, the Red Devils are unbeaten against two of the big three this term, drawing with Chelsea on the opening day before a late Ella Toone goal defeated Arsenal.
While excitement is building, ex-England captain Stoney was eager to keep everything in perspective.
She added: “It is just the next fixture for us. We said on Sunday yes it was a big win, but this only matters if we follow it up.
“We think that way about every game – whether it is a Manchester derby or Brighton like we had before. It is obviously a game we go into wanting to win, but we also know we are playing an excellent side.”
Away from the first team, Stoney was happy to report progress in the club’s efforts to get their academy players back in training after new coronavirus guidelines released by the Government initially prevented “non-elite” youth teams from training.
While men’s academies have been allowed to continue, girls youth set-ups were not, but the Football Association has said if an academy meets the Government’s elite protocols they can reopen.
The 38-year-old said: “It is massively important (they reopen) because they are missing out on their development, their mental wellbeing and their physical health is impacted by this.
“As a football club we don’t want their development stalled, so it is really important we get it back up and running when it is safe to do so.”
Captain Katie Zelem is a product of the Manchester United Girls’ Centre of Excellence, but with no initial first-team path moved to rivals Liverpool to start her career.
Since she returned to her home club in 2018, the midfielder has only claimed bragging rights over their rivals once.
“We all know how much it means to us, the supporters and our fans,” Zelem said. “It is a game we always want to win. We want to come out on top and make sure Manchester is red.
“We know there’s a lot of external media saying maybe we are favourites. Obviously we are going into it top, but for us that doesn’t mean anything.
“We attack the game like we would any other. We always want to win the Manchester derbies and this one will mean the same and so much to us.”