Alessia Russo has showcased in Manchester United’s last two games that she is destined to be a top class all-round striker. Already, no English player has scored more goals in the WSL this season.
Russo’s thunderbolt strike against Reading last time out was her seventh league goal of the campaign. She is level pegging with Lionesses colleague Beth Mead, with only prolific heavyweights Sam Kerr and Vivianne Miedema out in front.
To say that Russo is the obvious answer to the question ‘Who replaces Ellen White as England number nine?’ is an understatement. The more pressing question is ‘when?’ – given that White is soon to be 33 and has herself only scored twice in the WSL so far this season.
At this point, experience and a proven record in major tournaments might just be enough to keep the veteran ahead as a starter at Euro 2022, but Russo is coming fast to claim her crown.
The 23-year-old is reaping the rewards of being fully fit this season after her debut campaign at United was ended prematurely by long-term injury. She has been a mainstay of Marc Skinner’s starting XI since October and won December’s PFA WSL Fans’ Player of the Month.
Russo is capable of scoring every kind of goal, which only adds to her importance for club and country. As well as possessing a fearsome strike, she is known for heading prowess, but also has the vision, intelligence and skill to be play an important role in build-up play. The way she split the Reading defence with a single pass to set up Leah Galton on Saturday was mind-blowingly brilliant.
Other assists this season have come from crossing positions out wide and feeds into Skinner’s preference for ‘fluid forwards’, those who are not pigeonholed into a specific role and can play anywhere across the front line depending on the circumstances of a game. With Russo, the aforementioned Galton and Martha Thomas operating up top, and Ella Toone playing the ‘number 10’ role just behind, United have assembled an outstanding front four.
It is Russo in particular who knits that newly discovered unit together so well.
“I’m biased, so I’m going to say yes [she is England’s most in-form striker],” United boss Skinner said ahead of this week’s WSL clash with West Ham.
“The way that she strikes the ball is very unique in women’s football, getting the power levels. There’s a still image [from Saturday] where her leg comes right across her body to give that much power. What Alessia has is unique abilities to hold the ball really well, to join play, and if she gets half a yard to shoot, she’s deadly.
“She can have it all,” he added.
“We’re still going to keep working with her because there is a lot she can still achieve. But she is very much in form and has high impact on the games we’re playing. You saw the ball through for Leah the other day – that’s the kind of quality on the other side she can do.
“I have no shame in saying this, I’ve only had 20-odd games with these players and still working on ways in which players link with each other and combine. Finding that combination that we’re currently using has been excellent and she is a key to that.
“She’s got lots to learn but is really heading in the right direction.”