Focusing on Marc Skinner's centre-backs

Sunday 20 March 2022 11:45

Our detailed look at the Manchester United Women squad continues today with an insight into our defenders, and in this case, Marc Skinner’s four senior centre-backs.

From Millie Turner as a member of 2018’s founding side, to Diane Caldwell who joined the club earlier this year, our centre-halves have all worn the famous Red shirt with pride during their respective United journeys so far…


Millie Turner has been with the side since day one, firmly establishing herself as a key member of the squad. She played the full 90 minutes in all but two of 77 competitive matches across the first three seasons, coming off as a second-half substitute and missing just one of the others. Injuries have disrupted her action in 2021/22, with her most recent game coming against Arsenal in January – after which she was ruled out again after medical investigations revealed an issue with the artery in her neck – but she’s well on the road to recovery, and her popularity has been clear for all to see with plenty of well-wishes from her fellow Reds. “That one was for Millie,” said midfielder Vilde Boe Risa after scoring in the next outing, against Tottenham. “I’m just incredibly proud to have her as a team-mate and I cheer for her every day.”

Millie’s now back in non-contact training and is currently third behind only to Ella Toone and Katie Zelem on United’s list of all-time appearance-makers. Strong in the air, she has also used that trait to good effect at the other end of the pitch, with five United goals to her name – all from headers. But she’s also adept with her feet, with Aoife Mannion explaining: “Millie’s strength is her technical ability on the ball.” While there is a chance that our no.21 will not be involved against her former club Everton as she continues her recovery, anyone who knows Millie will be certain that she’ll be cheering her team on as much as anybody at Old Trafford, if she cannot play! 

Millie is all smiles as she continues to work her way back to full fitness.


The absence of Turner has at least been eased by the impressive form of Maria Thorisdottir, who had an instant impact when replacing the former from the bench against Leicester in September, as she registered her first United goal en route to a 3-1 win. That wasn’t Maria’s only key contribution, as she also managed six recoveries, five clearances, five duel wins and two interceptions in a commanding performance. Signed in January 2021 from Chelsea – where she won two WSL titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Community Shield – she has experience as a full-back, but it’s in a central role where she looks most at home.

It’s there where she has often shone this season, and she was so unfortunate to be on the losing side in February’s narrow WSL defeat away to Manchester City, following a combative 90 minutes in which her blocks, clearances and aerial duels denied City’s Vicky Losada, among others, before a late moment of brilliance won it for the hosts. Maria’s commitment to the cause, and no little talent, has certainly been recognised by her team-mates, with fellow centre-back Aoife Mannion observing: “Maria’s strength is some of her one-v-one defending ability and her physical presence, and she can play out on the ball as well.” Born in Stavanger, Norway, to a Norwegian mother and an Icelandic father, it’s her mother’s country that Maria opted to represent at international level, and having won her 50th cap last September, she recently captained her country for the first time.


Birmingham-born Aoife Mannion arrived from Manchester rivals City last summer and quickly became a regular in the starting XI, playing every minute of the first 19 games of this season, before picking up an anterior cruciate ligament injury that will unfortunately rule her out for a sustained period of time. But if her past experiences are anything to go by, she’ll be back even stronger, having overcome 16 months on the sidelines for City after picking up the same injury in 2019, and then helping her side keep a clean sheet against Tottenham on her first start back in February last year, despite being thrust into the action after originally being named on the bench that day. 

While Aoife departed City a few months later, the Blues’ loss has been the Reds’ gain, as she contributed to clean sheets in half of her first 18 United appearances – something assisted by thorough research by our no.5: “No matter what team we face, I will always watch individual clips on the forwards – I respect their strengths and will make it my task to nullify them,” she says. Aoife has previously excelled under Reds head coach Marc Skinner with Birmingham City, where she was twice named in the PFA Team of the Year, and she names Roy Keane as her childhood inspiration. As a youngster, the Brummie with Irish parents attended the same school as Jack Grealish, playing Gaelic football against him in the past.

Aoife Mannion suffers ACL injury


Everyone at the club wishes Aoife the best as she embarks on a period of recovery.


“I don’t really know how to put it into words how it feels. It’s just so surreal – this day is probably one of the most special in my life so far.” It would be fair to say that self-confessed diehard Red Caldwell has already made a big impression at the club, after finally achieving her dream move at the age of 33 in January, with her enthusiasm rubbing off on many of her team-mates. “She’s a proper United fan!” notes Maria Thorisdottir. “When she came in, you knew she would do everything she can to help the club win – she fights and defends with her heart and everything, and that’s what you need in a defensive line.”

Having signed until the end of the campaign after leaving North Carolina Courage, Dubliner Caldwell has slotted in well at the back, producing an assured display to limit free-scoring league leaders Arsenal to a single goal in February’s 1-1 draw, before helping earn a clean sheet against Leicester. “She has great composure and versality,” boss Skinner pointed out on her arrival. “Diane is also a great character, she is the ultimate professional who possesses those important traits and leadership skills.” Like Thorisdottir, Diane also recently donned the captain’s armband for her country, doing so as she won her 85th cap for ‘the Girls in Green’, against Russia.