FAWSL 2021/22 Preview: Manchester City

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 3rd – 5th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. We’re going back to an alphabetical approach this year and continue with Manchester City, who finished as runners-up for the fourth consecutive and had to console themselves with another FA Women’s Cup triumph…

City gear up for their 2nd round Champions League (1sy leg) tie with Real Madrid…

Full Name: Manchester City Women’s Football Club

Nickname(s): The Citizens, the Blues, City, Man City

Founded: 1988

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

Last Season, FAWSL: 2nd Place

WSL Pedigree / Club History

City’s entry into the Women’s Super League was not without controversy when the league expanded to two divisions (WSL1 and WSL2) in 2014. The club was already at national competition level but observers were outraged when City was effectively awarded a top-flight spot at the expense of Doncaster Belles before a ball had been kicked.

Since then they have wholly vindicated the decision to put them into the higher level (it was the way it was done by the authorities, rather than a cheap shot at City).

The club finished fifth at the first attempt and haven’t fallen out of the top two since. What might frustrate the club and fans alike is that they’ve only won the WSL once (2016). Even more galling is that they were top of the league when the pandemic ended the 2019/20 season and then lost out on the FA’s decision to award the trophy anyway on a points-per-game basis.

Last Season

There was very little between City and champions Chelsea during 2020/21. The title came down to the head-to-head record and Gareth Taylor’s side only managed to pick up one point in that respect.

But, as was alluded to in the Chelsea preview, Gareth Taylor’s side could very well have won the Academy Stadium encounter with the Blues had keeper Berger not pulled off a worldie of a stop in the second half with the scores tied and City dominating. That would have put the title in their hands.

The Citizens had a slower start than they would have liked, dropping seven points in their opening six fixtures, including their only league defeat of the season to Chelsea.

After that they would only draw two more games – the rest were victories including an 8-1 over Bristol City and a 7-1 at Brighton.

Manager

City Manager Gareth Taylor – Made a good fist of his first season in charge.

“We realised in these first four games before the international break that we’ve got to be patient. We’ll see good and bad, like [the Madrid game]. It’s the situation we’re in and we have to deal with it. There was no other way of working it but I’ve never looked for excuses. We just have to learn as we go, improve and get fitter as we go. It takes time for things to come back, we have new players as well, it takes time but we’ll be there and we’ll do it no problem.”

Gareth Taylor, Manager, Manchester City, via mancity.com 1/9/2021

Gareth Taylor has been in charge of Manchester City Women since May of last 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 nearly 600 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.

While fans could be critical of his tactical acumen at times during last season, he was still able to lead the club to their third FA Women’s Cup triumph and ran WSL title winners Chelsea all the way to the final day.

Recruitment

Midfielder Vicky Losada brings a wealth of experience from over a century of appearances for FC Barcelona.

Five new players joined the City ranks over the summer and an ‘old’ favourite returned.

Experienced Spanish midfielder Vicky Losada will challenge for a berth in City’s new look starting eleven. The veteran of 64 international caps knows the WSL, having played a season at Arsenal.

The bulk of her career, however, has been spent at FC Barcelona where she was a central component in years of improvement that culminated in an invincible league campaign and a Champions League trophy last May. However, the 30-year wasn’t a starter that night – which shows how far that squad has needed to come.

Losada will compete for starts with (amongst others) Jill Scott who has returned to the club after a loan spell at Everton.

Versatile Australian Alanna Kennedy has joined from Spurs where she generally played as a defensive midfielder. For her country, however, she is a centre back and this makes sense, for while she is certainly a good reader of the game and a nice passer of the ball, Kennedy’s not the most mobile player. She headed in the opening goal against Team GB in a 4-3 win for the Matildas at the Tokyo Olympics.

Watching quick and powerful Jamaican striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw take on the WSL will be fun, though. Whether she’ll be able to oust Ellen White from that central striking role is another matter.

Winger Hayley Raso was the second Australian to sign for City this summer. A hardworking and dynamic right winger / wingback, Raso had successful spells with Brisbane Roar and the Portland Thorns before signing with Everton last year. She was one of their most consistent players and chipped in 5 goals in 19 WSL appearances.

Who’s moved on?

Three Women’s World Cup winners, although the real blow will be midfielder Samantha Mewis, who after one year with City has gone back to North Carolina Courage in the NWSL. Mewis, tall and physical, but also really solid technically, looked like she was born for WSL and will be a miss.

Making the same move back across the pond are centre back Abby Dahlkemper (Houston), who the fans didn’t have much of a chance to connect with, and Rose Lavelle (OL Reign) who showed glimpses of her insane ability but just couldn’t get the starts – mainly because Caroline Weir was absolutely lighting it up every week on the left of midfield.

Centre half Gemma Bonner opted for new NWSL franchise Racing Louisville after finding minutes hard to come by. Aoife Mannion has gone across the city to Manchester United after having some really bad luck injury-wise. Republic of Ireland defender Megan Campbell signed for Championship side Liverpool.

Key Players

Every ‘orchestra’ needs a ‘conductor’, here’s City’s… midfielder Keira Walsh

It’s always a minefield picking key players in a team, particularly when they have a whole squad of key players. It suggests that all the others aren’t ‘key’, which is not the case. Anyway here goes…

If you’re looking for a player to set the tempo of a game in midfield, you can pretty much set your watch by Keira Walsh. A veteran at just 24-years old, Walsh has been making team line-ups since 2014 and became part of a staple selection strategy with Nick Cushing in 2017/18. If Walsh is playing well, City are playing well.

A classic ‘holding’ midfielder Walsh has every pass in her locker, reads the game beautifully and has a nice line in ruining what the opponent is trying to do. The English are all too familiar with midfielders that charge around the pitch bumping into one another. Walsh is a studied, modern, (dare we say) ‘continental’ player and all the more effective for it.

You’d have to be some player to outshine Sam Mewis and Keira Walsh every week. But Scotland (and now Team GB) star Caroline Weir found a way.

With City playing a pretty orthodox three across the middle of the pitch, surely it should look harder than it does for Weir. She’s very good at playing in those small space between the opposing midfield and defensive lines, linking attacks from back to front and chipping in with some unbelievably good goals. She was one of Team GB’s best player at the Olympics forging a tidy pairing with Kim Little.

Caroline Weir doing what Caroline does…

There are a few very, very good full-backs in the women’s game presently, and debates regularly abound on-line about who the world’s best is. Lucy Bronze’s name comes up in that discussion a lot, and those that doubt her claim to the title often reference the defensive side of her game.

But whether one believes she is or is not the very best full back around, there aren’t too many that an opposing manager has to have a plan for – such is the danger she presents coming out of defence with the ball, overlapping to deliver a cross or just showing up at set-pieces (inside or outside the box).

This is why Lyon ensured that they got some good years out of her and, no doubt, why Manchester City made sure they were first in the queue when Bronze came back to the WSL.

Opening Day

Manchester City host Everton on Saturday 4th September.

Pre-season

Manchester City drew the first leg of their 2nd round UEFA Women’s Champions League tie with Real Madrid 1-1. Caroline Weir opened the scoring in Spain but Kenti Robles equalised deep in to stoppage time.

Vicky Losada, Khadija Shaw and Hayley Raso were all given their debuts in Madrid.

Prospects for 2021/22

Manchester City still look like the club that is going to present the toughest challenge to Chelsea’s title defence.

However, twelve City players were at the Olympics playing for their respective nations. This will inevitably have disrupted their preparation – they were back training on the 23rd August, which is fairly close to the start of the season. Ellen White has been injured and Lucy Bronze had to have an operations on her right knee. It is not known when she will return. The last thing they need is another slow start.

There’s a question nagging away at us here at D2B towers over City’s recruitment this summer. Have they adequately replaced the leavers in order to be able to compete effectively on the domestic front and the European stage? Rotation is an important facet for the top teams, of course, but no one has arrived that’s better than what they already had which suggests that this off-season was either about building squad depth, or that there could be a cheeky deadline day signing to come…

Transfer Summary

Ins

  • Jill Scott – End of Loan (Midfielder)
  • Ruby Mace (Defender)
  • Khadija Shaw (Forward)
  • Vicky Losada (Midfielder)
  • Hayley Raso (Winger)
  • Alanna Kennedy (Defender)

Outs

  • Gemma Bonner (Defender)
  • Sam Mewis (Midfielder)
  • Rose Lavelle (Midfielder)
  • Megan Campbell (Defender)
  • Tyler Toland (Midfielder)
  • Aoife Mannion (Defender)
  • Lee Geum-min (Forward)
  • Abby Dahlkemper (Defender)

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