FA WSL Preview – Manchester City

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 5th / 6th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. Last year we went alphabetical in presenting the teams, but this year we’ve plumped for reverse order of where each club was placed when the league was finally abandoned due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having looked at Arsenal in the previous article now we turn our attention to Manchester City who were just pipped at the post for the title by the combination of a global pandemic and a points per game calculation…

Manchester City Women’s Football Club

City Manager Gareth Taylor – took over from Nick Cushing in spring having come through the coaching ranks at the club.

Last Season: 2nd of 12

Nickname: The Citizens, the Blues, City

Founded: 1988

Home Ground: Academy Stadium (capacity 7,000 – 5,000 seated)

To say that City were unhappy with the way that the WSL title was decided for 2019/20, would be an understatement.  With less than three quarters of the season played the FA awarded the title to Chelsea on a points-per-game (PPG) basis. At that moment the Citizens were on top of the WSL table, one point ahead, having played one more game. The footballing authorities, then, pre-supposed that each team would continue to match their form up to the end of the campaign and the trophy was off to London.

In fairness, City’s head-to-head record against Arsenal and Chelsea backs up the league’s decision. Four points from twelve against their fierce rivals put them a clear second out of the title contenders – BUT they could also correctly argue that they were better against all the other teams while Chelsea had the propensity to drop points against sides one would ordinarily expect them to beat. And round and round we go…

Gareth Taylor took on the management reins in May of this year, replacing the long-serving and unquestionably successful Nick Cushing who won the WSL title in 2016, 2 FA Cups and 2 League Cups.

A former international player for Wales and veteran of 575 league games, Taylor benefitted as Cushing did from City’s policy of promoting from within. His leadership qualities are highly regarded within the club and he is seen as an excellent coach in terms of player development having also worked within the Academy. Fans will now be focused on his tactical acumen to see if he can find an edge over his main rivals.

“I’m extremely excited about the challenge ahead with a very talented group of players and staff who have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some great people within Manchester City and the club’s academy so far, but I’m absolutely relishing my new role within City Football Group and I’ll be giving everything I have to continue Manchester City’s success and growth in the women’s game.” Gareth Taylor, Head Coach via the Guardian, 28/05/2020

Gareth Taylor, Head Coach via the Guardian, 28/05/2020

Nearly 70% of the squad is English and nearly all of them are fully-fledged senior internationals. Compared with Chelsea (40%) and Arsenal (just 20%) it’s perhaps not surprising that new fans nurturing their fledgling interest in women’s football gravitate towards following City where many of their favourite Lionesses reside.

To compound this attraction, world class England full-back Lucy Bronze has been heavily linked with a move back to the Academy Stadium after she played her part in securing Lyon’s 5th consecutive Champions League trophy last Sunday.

On her way back? Lucy Bronze has left Olympique Lyon and is strongly linked with a return to Manchester City.

Lyon and England left-back Alex Greenwood, could also be transferring to the blue half of Manchester having also played for United in the Women’s Championship winning team – although with Demi Stokes already in post one can’t help wonder 1) how does the manager keep both happy, and 2) what benefit is there for either player or the England national team when one is always going to be benched.

And herein lies what could be Taylor’s biggest challenge: keeping all those stars satisfied.  Putting the Bronze and Greenwood rumours aside for a moment, at the time of writing only three players have been brought in to bolster the ranks, and all have seriously ramped up competition for places.

Chloe Kelly had an outstanding season for Everton last season scoring 9 league goals from her spot out on the left of a front three. She can play anywhere across the forward line, is happy to run at opponents, has the pace to get in behind a backline and isn’t shy of pulling the trigger quickly when she gets a sight of goal.  Kelly has worked her way on to the fringes of the Lionesses starting eleven, giving a good account of herself at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. She was also one of City’s brighter players at last weekend’s Community Shield at Wembley, where the Citizens were beaten 2-0. By Chelsea.

Chloe Kelly – Her speed, skill and an ability to commit defenders has put her in contention for a starting berth with the Lionesses.

Samantha Mewis has joined from North Carolina Courage, serial winners of the NWSL Shield and Championship. Mewis an athletic 6’0” box-to-box midfielder was a regular starter in the USA side that won the World Cup in France last summer.  She has all the passes in her locker and loves a low drive from outside the box. It would be easy to assume that Mewis’ arrival heralds the beginning of the end for Jill Scott, but you can bet that’s a challenge that’s been laid down before by other recruits and the affable 33-year old Lioness has just kept earning her starts.

Plus, in what started to look like a competition where City only sign a player better than the previous one, they picked up another World Cup winner, Rose Lavelle from OL Reign (though she last played for Washington Spirit at the Utah 2020 Challenge Cup). Now 25, Lavelle’s star has risen over the last couple of years culminating in her scoring the goal that gave the US breathing space in their World Cup final against the Netherlands.

She’s a flair player with a bag of tricks, can run at a scintillating pace with the ball and has learnt her trade providing slide rule through balls for strikers such as Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd – the latter of which, of course, was on loan at City for the 2017 ‘Spring Series’ helping City to secure one of those FA Cups in the trophy cabinet.

Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis – Celebrating success as World Cup winning USWNT players.

All appear good additions to a stellar squad. Trying to integrate these with largely ever-present players from last year such as Caroline Weir, Jill Scott, Kiera Walsh, Janine Beckie and Lauren Hemp is going to be interesting to watch – although Hemp won’t be part of the initial selection headache as she suffered a hamstring injury in last weekend’s Wembley showpiece.

City have said goodbye to last season’s top scorer Pauline Bremer, who joined Wolfsburg and won a Champions League Runners-up medal in San Sebastien last weekend. Belgian international Tessa Wullaert has returned to Anderlecht while South Korean forward Lee Geum-min has taken up an opportunity to go on loan at Brighton.

Karen Bardsley will duke it out (figuratively) with young Ellie Roebuck for the goalkeeper’s jersey, while the central partnership of Steph Houghton and the perennially underrated Gemma Bonner looks likely to endure even though Aoife Mannion is back following a torn ACL. Houghton has been criticised for some of her England performances since the World Cup but it should be noted that marshalled the meanest backline in the WSL last season. The Community Shield should have rung a few alarm bells, though, as Chelsea found ways to get behind them at will. Adjusting their line to deal with pace will be crucial.

Esme Morgan has returned from a loan spell at Everton, but her claim on the right back berth probably hinges on Lucy Bronze’s next choice of club. And even then it’s not a shoe-in as Mannion can play there as well.

“I think it’ll be close throughout the season. It won’t be easy. A lot of clubs have strengthened, but so have we. It’s hard to gauge. All we are doing is looking at ourselves. [The Community Shield] won’t change anything with regards to what we want to achieve this season.”

Gareth Taylor, Head Coach, via club website

D2B labelled City ‘flat track bullies’ in our mid-season review earlier in the year at which point they hadn’t been able to beat either of the other title contenders and has been knocked out of the Champions League. A week later they’d beaten Arsenal in the league and went on to draw with the Blues. So that showed us. They are title contenders, no question. They have a better squad and they’ll have plenty of fire in their bellies to get the job done. New manager Gareth Taylor now needs to figure out how to blend all those big names and win the tactical battle against his main rivals.

Departures

  • Tessa Wullaert, Forward
  • Pauline Bremer, Forward
  • Lee Geum-min, Forward
  • Matilde Fidalgo, Defender
  • Emma Bissell, Midfielder

Arrivals          

  • Chloe Kelly, Forward
  • Sam Mewis, Midfielder
  • Rose Lavelle, Midfielder
  • Lucy Bronze, Defender (after original article)
  • Alex Greenwood, Defender (after original article)

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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