Alessia Russo turns on the style as Manchester United Women dazzle in front of record crowd

Manchester United women dazzle in front of record crowd - Alessia Russo - Ed Sykes/Reuters
Manchester United women dazzle in front of record crowd - Alessia Russo - Ed Sykes/Reuters

Manchester United 5 Aston Villa 0

Manchester United striker Alessia Russo is staking the strongest claim to start up front for England at next summer's Women's World Cup after another superb all-round performance helped her club enjoy an emphatic victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

The home side turned on the style in front of their women's team's largest-ever crowd of 30,196, in what was the women's team's third appearance at their men's team's home ground and only their second in front of a crowd, and several stars upped their game on the big stage, including 23-year-old Russo.

A super-sub during July's Euros triumph but not a regular starter for the Lionesses prior to record goalscorer Ellen White's retirement in August, Russo has had to be patient for her chance to lead the line - and missed October's internationals through injury - but as she matures into a complete number nine, dropping deep to create chances for team-mates at will, Sarina Wiegman's selection decision for next July's tournament looks ever easier.

Russo has now scored in three consecutive Women's Super League appearances, and having headed in a stoppage-time winner in a dramatic 3-2 win over title rivals Arsenal at Emirates Stadium last time out, her confidence looked sky high.

Saturday's game was significant in that regard because on the opposite side was another in-form England star, Aston Villa's central striker Rachel Daly, who has the league's joint-highest tally of eight goals so far this term. Russo thrived, linking up the play with ease. She was involved in the moves for Manchester United's two first-half goals - finished off by Katie Zelem and Leah Galton - before herself getting on the end of a slick passing move to turn in the third goal at the back post.

"She had to link the play, the pitch feels massive!" joked manager Marc Skinner, who added of his striker: "She’s brilliant. There are lots of qualities that she has. Rachel [Daly] has a different team and support behind her to get the ball to her so I wouldn’t compare her to Rachel [today] but Alessia links our play, she can finish in the box, she can turn and face the opponent, she’s got a variance of heading and finishing ability and she’s a great, great player."

Ella Toone also put in a strong performance for Manchester United - Ed Sykes/REUTERS
Ella Toone also put in a strong performance for Manchester United - Ed Sykes/REUTERS

United's fourth was a sublime strike from Spain right-back Ona Batlle, who later set up Rachel Williams for the fifth goal in the closing stages. The hosts earlier thought they had a fifth goal when lively winger Galton placed into the net in the closing stages but referee Louise Saunders hard already blown her whistle for a free-kick just on the edge of the penalty area in the build-up, prompting boos from the home crowd who were frustrated that an advantage had not been played.

Match details

Goals: Zelem (13), Galton (28), Russo (51), Batlle (76), Williams (90+3)
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Earps 6; Batlle 8, Le Tissier 7, Turner 7, Blundell 6; Ladd 7, Zelem 7; Parris 6 (Thomas 6, 63), Toone 8 (Williams 7, 85), Galton 8 (Boe Risa 6, 85); Russo 8 (Garcia 6, 77)
Subs not used: Thorisdottir, Leon, Tounkara, Baggaley (gk), Staniforth
Yellow cards: None
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Hampton 5; Mayling 5, Patten 6, Turner 6, Pacheco 5; Blindkilde 5 (McLoughlin 6, 84), Corsie 6, Dali 6; Gregory 6 (Gielnik 6, 58), Daly 6, Lehmann 6
Subs not used: Leat (gk), Goodwin
Yellow cards: Patten
Referee: Louise Saunders (Kent)
Attendance: 30,196