Katie Zelem wants Manchester United Women to put down a marker against Reading

Manchester United captain Katie Zelem believes her side’s first game is all about setting standards for the new season.

United host Reading at Leigh Sports Village on Friday night in the first game of the 2021/22 Women’s Super League campaign.

The Royals defeated United in the same fixture last term, registering the Reds’ only home loss of that season.

Midfielder Zelem, 25, told a press conference: “I think no matter who we were going to play, first game would’ve been about us setting our standards.

“We can go up against Reading and show everyone what we’ve worked on and set our marker down.”

After just missing out on a Champions League spot to Arsenal last season, United are determined to make the top three this year.

“I think for us consistency is a huge thing, we’ve had some great results against the previous what you would call top three (Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City), but for us it’s about maintaining our standards no matter who we play,” Zelem said.

“I think for us it’s about making sure it’s not just big games that you focus on but every single game you play contributes to the factor of getting into the Champions League.”

Zelem said that she has “nothing but positive things” to say about new head coach Marc Skinner who took over from Casey Stoney following her departure at the end of last season.

She said: “He’s managed to create connections between the girls, between his staff so quickly, and that’s hats off to him as a person to be honest, he’s a great guy and he’s got great technical detail on the pitch.

“I think it took a few weeks for him to come in and we’d already returned to pre-season but as soon as he came in it was like a new lease of life, everyone’s really enjoying playing under him and just learning new things really, how he wants to play and his style of play.”

The opening WSL fixture is set to be a historic one, kicking off in front of the Sky Sports cameras in what the Football Association describes as a “game-changing” TV deal, which Zelem is excited for.

She said: “I’m really happy to be opening the season, I think it’s such a big honour for myself, the girls, the staff, that it’ll be us after such a difficult year last year with Covid and stuff, we can welcome fans back into the stadium which we’re so excited for.

“Also for it to be televised, we can’t wait to get going now and I’m sure it’s the same with all the other girls.”

Reading finished seventh in the WSL last season and captain Natasha Harding has also described the game as a “proud moment” for her.

“I probably speak on behalf of all the girls who have been involved from the start – we deserve this,” the 32-year-old said.

“This is something we’ve worked very, very hard for, this hasn’t just happened overnight.

“A lot of people are new to the game, see the nice stuff that has come over the last three or four years.

“But this has been hard graft, and it’s one that I definitely think the girls that have paved the way, it is something they should be really proud of.

“It’s making history, it’s something that I’m relishing, I can’t wait.”