All successful teams require great players and in Alessia Russo Manchester United may just have the outstanding talent they need to fire them to a first Women’s Super League title.
The 23-year-old was the subject of world-record bids from rivals Arsenal in January but both were rejected, leaving her in situ as the spearhead of United’s attack.
And with three clinical finishes for her first WSL hat-trick against Leicester City, the England forward seems up for the challenge.
United boss Mark Skinner said: “Now the window has died down, we can get back to focus. She is an unbelievable talent and a big part of what we are trying to build here.”
Russo’s three goals were not extraordinary in themselves – a drilled finish to capitalise on a rebound, a neat close-range header and a latch on to a knockdown from a corner.
But they typified what every good goalscorer needs – the knack of being in the right place at the right time.
As former England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain said on BBC Two: “She is always there in those danger zones. She is the difference maker and she’s done exactly the same today.”
‘You’d think a hat-trick would be normal for her’
Before Sunday’s win, Russo had scored five goals in the league this season, but none since the 15 January 6-0 demolition of Liverpool.
Arsenal’s interest came at the end of January but a strike on international duty against South Korea suggested she was getting back to form, while netting in the FA Cup last weekend against Durham was a further good sign.
“I didn’t even realise it was her first hat-trick,” said ex-Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. “She seems so prolific that you think that’s a normal thing for her.”
Her only previous senior hat-trick was a sensational 11-minute salvo in England’s 20-0 win over Latvia in November 2021. In total, she has 11 goals in 19 appearances for the national team.
Naturally, Skinner was pleased with Russo’s impact but admitted he wants more from his England forward.
“She’s a massive part of this club and I believe she can do that more often,” he said. “It’s just now about getting her into that zone where she continues to do it.”
On a day when WSL top-scorer Khadija Shaw bagged a hat-trick of her own for Manchester City, United hope their talented striker can push herself further up the goalscoring charts.
As for the title race, United are three points clear of neighbours City, but will also face competition from both Chelsea and Arsenal, who each have two games in hand.
The Blues won the league in the past three campaigns and host United on Sunday, 12 March.
“All we can do is keep performing and focus on each game,” Skinner said. “Chelsea, Arsenal and City are all excellent teams and there will be lots of twists and turns yet.
“It’ll be a tough ask [to go to Chelsea] so we’ve got to give everything.”