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Manchester United fans are still eagerly awaiting a debut for record signing Lisa Naalsund, who joined the club from SK Brann during the January transfer window.
United paid a substantial fee for Naalsund and handed the Norway international a long-term contract until 2026 – only Ella Toone has a deal for as long among the current squad.
Even with that level of investment, the fact that she didn’t make her debut right away was not a surprise. Naalsund’s 2022 season in Norway had finished in early November, which meant by the time she joined United in late January she hadn’t played for the best part of three months.
The 27-year-old effectively had to do a pre-season to raise her fitness to match levels. The target was always March, initially late March, and gradually came forward. She was then declared fit and ready to play ahead of the WSL clash with Leicester at the start of the month.
Naalsund didn’t get on the pitch that day, even though United racked up the score-line in the second half at home against the league’s bottom side – manager Marc Skinner used up all his other substitutes getting minutes into the legs of others.
An away trip to Chelsea was always going to be a tough ask. But with United struggling to find ways of breaking the Blues’ deliberately compact low block, it could have been worth a gamble, especially because Skinner has previously praised her ‘mentality, box to box driving runs, and desire to win’.
The United boss has a particular way of playing and usually refrains from throwing new players in at the deep end, preferring instead to have everyone first master his system. That is only intensified joining a team already performing well midway through a season.
Ahead of facing Lewes in the FA Cup, Skinner has said that both Naalsund and fellow January arrival Estelle Cascarino are ‘getting closer in terms of understanding how we play’. Canadian full-back Jayde Riviere will likely go through the same process when she is soon fully fit.
On loan from Paris Saint-Germain, Cascarino arrived in a more ready to play state and made her debut in the FA Cup against Sunderland. With United facing another second tier side in Lewes in Sunday’s quarter-final, it seems an obvious chance to use Naalsund for the first time.
Skinner has described both players as ‘future Manchester United’, suggesting the longer-term intention is to make Cascarino’s loan a permanent transfer.
Naalsund initially expressed concern about the difficulty of breaking into a successful United side before she signed – she had seen international teammate Vilde Boe Risa have to make do with sporadic appearances, risking her place in Norway’s 2023 World Cup in the process. As it happens, Boe Risa is now starting to get a few more opportunities and is taking them.
Naalsund has impressed so far in training and adds a different kind of quality to the squad in terms of box-to-box transition. The sooner she starts playing, the better, especially ahead of a super close run-in where every inch is crucial. United will need every advantage they can get.