Manchester United forward Alessia Russo has revealed that she is enjoying providing assists and ‘building connections’ with teammates on the pitch, beyond just scoring goals herself.
Russo was United’s top scorer in 2021/22, with nine WSL goals to her name and a total of 11 in all competitions. It was an impressive feat in her first proper season in the league, having spent most of the 2020/21 campaign sidelined with long-term injury.
Although she played some part in all 22 WSL games, the 23-year-old initially had to be patient for her chance and didn’t start until the second month of the season. United’s coaching staff had made the deliberate decision to manage her fitness and ease her in gently to avoid risking setbacks.
Manager Marc Skinner admitted recently that it left Russo slightly frustrated at the time because she was so desperate to get back onto the pitch.
Indeed, in an interview with Sky Sports she explained that just ‘playing and competing’ this season was her biggest target last summer.
“You’ve not even seen half of it yet,” Skinner has said of Russo. “This is her first season back from a really serious injury and I’ve been really pleased. Now, we’re at a point where we’re seeing the real Alessia Russo and I know there is so much more to come.”
As well as being a fiercely powerful ‘number nine’, Russo has showcased her impressive all-round game this season. She is a strong runner with and without the ball, moves all over the pitch to get involved in build-up play and is more than capable of crossing and passing to devastating effect.
In addition to her nine WSL goals, the leading tally among all English players until she was overtaken by Lauren Hemp on the final day of the season, Russo provided four assists for teammates to score. What’s more, it was actually assists, rather than goals, which underpinned her winning the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month award in December.
Skinner has often preached ‘taking the label off’ this season, which means asking his United players to improve their in-game versatility and not be defined by a single position. That has particularly shown in Russo’s development and is arguably responsible for the way that a vibrant front four of her, Ella Toone, Leah Galton and Martha Thomas came together in the second of the season.
“I would use to say scoring [is best], but this season I’ve quite enjoyed a few assists. As a striker, you always want to score. But I think any time you get a goal contribution is important,” Russo explained to Sky Sports. “A couple of my assists to Leah – she gets on the end of everything, so if I put a ball in an area, she’ll be there. It’s nice to start building those connections.”
As thing stand, Russo is out of contract this summer, but the club hold an extension option for her and others that they plan to trigger.
Her response echoes what Ella Toone, who has played with Russo since first representing England together at Under-15 level, told 90min last month.
“We’ve always had that understanding of how each other play and I think it comes from off the pitch how close we are,” Toone said of playing with Russo.
“We have that bond off the pitch that goes onto the pitch and helps us a lot. Obviously the more we play together, the more we understand each other. It’s nice to share the pitch with a friend I’ve had for a long time.
“It’s about knowing your players around you and them knowing me, and knowing that I like to play that pass. They’re always looking for it and I know they’ll make those runs and I think it’s just the relationships we have.”