By Neil Evans.
Manchester City may not have delivered to their expectations last season, but the prospect for the upcoming WSL season seems anything but dull as the Citizens brace themselves with better understanding within the team and new names to threaten for the title.
Manchester City Women made quite a splash in their inaugural season in the WSL. Their arrival echoed a sort of Mancunian swagger England has not seen since Oasis were in their pomp. Marquee signings were made and expectations were very high. Just as well that City duly delivered some silverware at the first attempt, winning the Continental Cup with their local lass Izzy Christiansen’s bullet header seeing off Arsenal Ladies. Just as well, given the hype that the club had generated, another Manchester local Krystle Johnson provided the cross for Christiansen to score that goal! Oh the irony!
In many ways it was a strange season for City. Yes, there was the Continental Cup triumph, but there was a horribly inconsistent league campaign. In many ways, attracting the big names was the easy part, moulding them into a coherent team was much harder. A problem that manager Nick Cushing tried to downplay what he saw as unrealistic expectations. It was almost as if Cushing was uncomfortable with the expectations generated by the club’s PR machine. He would prove to be right.
No points from their first three league matches in 2014, plus an away defeat to Doncaster Rovers Belles (the very team they replaced in WSL 1 – more irony!) brought many down to earth. A fine away win at Arsenal kick started City’s season and results improved. However, City were to lose more league games then they would win, half of their 14 fixtures to be precise. They did win six however and eventually finished a respectable fifth, not what many fans expected given the big name signings.
The feeling surrounding City this season is that they will launch a real and sustained title challenge. Karen Bardsley is England’s premier female goalkeeper and the defence has been strengthened considerably. Lucy Bronze has swapped Merseyside for Manchester and may form a new centre back partnership with Scottish international Jennifer Beattie. Germany’s Kathleen Radtke has arrived from Norwegian club Rosengaard whilst left back Demi Stokes has returned to England from a spell in the US. Add to the mix Steph Houghton, Georgia Brougham, Emma Lipman as well as Chelsea Nightingale and Nick Cushing has multiple defensive and midfield options.
Midfield seems equally complete with the immense (in every way) Jill Scott now bedded in and the arrival of attacking midfielder/striker Nikita Parris on a year’s loan from Everton is mouthwatering enough. But, the surprise addition of former Vixen Natasha Harding provides that extra punch. Welsh international Harding was due to join US side Washington Spirit but visa issues meant she became a free agent. With her raw pace and ferocious desire to win, Cushing must feel like he has won the lottery! Christiansen and Johnson remain to provide the balance for the added flair.
City are also blessed with a goal machine in Toni Duggan. The popular and prolific striker has had an injury plagued pre-season but should be ready for the big kick off. Another promising Welsh international in Sarah Wiltshire was snapped up from WSL2 side Yeovil Town whilst Natasha Flint will provide real depth to City’s attacking options.
They do things differently at Manchester City; a different website to the other clubs and money enough for a pre-season camp in Dubai; a sign that money is beginning to really talk in the women’s game. But with money comes pressure, and I believe that City will challenge hard for the title this term. I have tipped Arsenal but would not be surprised if City were to emerge on top in the autumn. Make no mistake; this team is under pressure to deliver. Many fans were prepared to give the team a season to evolve. They have the stadium, the money and the best facilities. It’s time for City to put it all to use for results.
2015 Prediction – 2nd
Manchester City Women begin their 2015 season v Birmingham City Ladies (Solihull Moors FC) on March 29th kick-off 14.00pm.
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