The story of United Women's goalkeeping union
With the Reds lucky enough to boast five goalkeepers at the club at present (three of whom are currently out on loan), it's safe to say that boss Marc Skinner has a plethora of options when it comes to talented shot-stoppers.
Mary Earps has been an ever-present in the WSL since the goalkeeper arrived at the club from Wolfsburg in the summer of 2019, taking over the mantle from Siobhan Chamberlain as the experienced hands within the squad (Shiv keeping 19 clean sheets in 27 appearances in all competitions in our inaugural 2018/19 campaign).
Earps however will know she needs to keep performing at a high level, with this season’s 'cup keeper' Sophie Baggaley patiently waiting in the wings.
The 25-year-old Derbyshire-born keeper, who wears the no.32 shirt, has made six appearances for the Reds this term – three of which have been against the current ‘big three’ of Manchester City (a win), Arsenal (a win) and Chelsea (a defeat and a red card for ‘Baggers’) and two of which went to a penalty shoot-out (one win, one defeat).
So Baggaley’s had no shortage of drama since her arrival from Bristol City in July last year – for the record, her other appearance was a clean sheet in the Conti Cup win against our forthcoming Old Trafford opponents, Everton.
Much like Earps, Sophie is an effervescent presence within the squad – witness her pre-match warm-ups in the WSL, when she so often brings a smile to the faces of her team-mates – but also highly focused as soon as that whistle blows.
The similarities with Mary also apply to their career paths, with the pair moving from Birmingham City to Bristol Academy/City, before later moving on to Manchester.
In Bristol, Baggaley excelled to such an extent she was named FA Women's Football Awards Players' Player of the Year in 2018/19.
“It was a really proud moment – we came sixth, and for a team like Bristol City to do that was unbelievable,” recalls Sophie.
“I had a really good season myself, things fell right and I was a bit lucky as well, but it was really nice to receive that award.”
Having played for England at every age group up to Under-23s, Baggaley will no doubt be looking to follow in Earps’s footsteps once more by gaining senior recognition, having previously been part of the Lionesses squad, without playing, while at Birmingham and Bristol City.
Upon Baggaley’s arrival last summer, Manchester United’s football director John Murtough described Sophie as a “fantastic signing who will strengthen the goalkeeping department at the club, which has always been fiercely competitive”.
This includes three other young stoppers, who have all proved their worth this season beyond the leading pair.
Emily Ramsey and Fran Bentley – who are both 21 and 20 respectively, despite being the Reds joint longest-serving players (along with the other United Women originals, Martha Harris, Ella Toone, Katie Zelem, Leah Galton, Kirsty Hanson, Kirsty Smith and Millie Turner) – have had promising loan spells this season with clubs that Earps and Baggeley know very well (Ramsey at Birmingham; Bentley at Bristol City) and both young talents look destined for an excellent career.
Safia Middleton-Patel, meanwhile – who doesn’t even turn 18 until September – was on the United bench away to Arsenal in the WSL last month.
A Wales youth international, Safia is believed to be the first player of Indian origin to be a part of a senior team’s matchday squad for the Reds, including the men's side.
She recently joined Leicester City on a short non-contract loan basis, shortly after catching the eye of Marc Skinner while lining up for United’s U21s, as they won the WSL Academy Cup earlier this month.