It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the new look Manchester City side this season, but the WSL giants have found their form under the new manager in recent months, as Rich Laverty explores in his latest column.
Manchester City’s win against Everton on Sunday was by no means a thriller in terms of goalmouth action. However, it does come in handy when trying to analyse the progress and depth in approach under new head coach Gareth Taylor.
The Welshman had big shoes to fill following the departure of Nick Cushing to New York City FC and after a patchy start, the Man City side have made a roaring comeback. They’re looking more and more like the powerhouse they once were under Taylor’s predecessor.
Had it not been for the fact that it took some time for Taylor’s style to click on the pitch, there’s no doubt that City would likely be top of the FA Women’s Super League right now. As it stands, they are only two points behind leaders Chelsea and all in on the title race, but looking back to earlier in the campaign, there was uncertainty about whether Champions League qualification was even on the cards.
Sunday’s win signalled more than just a continuation of their impressive run of form against the Toffees, or their impressive league form more generally – Kiera Walsh’s vital strike 10 minutes from time extended City’s winning run to 9 games – their best run since May 2017 to January 2018. It also meant that they’ve now beaten Everton in all 10 of their league encounters historically.
The main takeaway however, was that it showed City can still win ugly – they can still win when things aren’t clicking, and they can still win when faced with a “pragmatic” approach such as the one exhibited by Willie Kirk’s side.
Although the win itself echoed the past, the new style was clear as day – City showing themselves to be more ruthless than ever before, something that perhaps wasn’t seen so much under previous head coach Cushing.
When Cushing led the team to what is still their sole league title in 2016, his team scored 36 goals in 16 games. The Everton match on Sunday saw Taylor’s side hit that same number of games but Walsh’s strike was their 51st goal of the season, 15 more than the title winning side already.
Cushing also favoured an approach prioritising defensive solidarity, exemplified by the fact they only conceded four goals during their title winning season – three of which were penalties. Liverpool’s Rosie White was the only player to breach City’s defensive fortress from open play all season. Certainly some stats to keep in mind for your next football-themed Zoom quiz!
Over the next few years, Cushing maintained City’s status as title contenders, despite spending less than rivals, but goals were always an issue. In 2018/19, they scored 17 less than champions Arsenal and 12 months later they had scored eight less than champions Chelsea in the campaign which was ultimately shortened by COVID-19.
This season they have turned the tables, scoring two more goals than Chelsea and three more than Arsenal – two sides infamous for showing ruthlessness against some of the lower placed sides in the league, and occasionally even the top ones.
Ushering in the new era, City also went on one of their biggest ever recruitment drives in summer. However, most of their eye-catching arrivals came in the defensive side of the pitch, with the attack remaining largely untouched bar the arrival of Chloe Kelly from Everton.
The quality of City’s new-look side is epitomised by the presence of USWNT World Cup winner Rose Lavelle on the bench – a prodigious talent and one of the best midfielders in the world. However, City also boast her international teammate, Sam Mewis, in their squad, as well as Caroline Weir, the latter of whom is potentially in some of the best form of her career.
The front three have clicked since Lauren Hemp’s return from injury. It’s no coincidence City have found better form since the young winger returned from that hamstring injury which saw her miss most of the first half of the season.
In their 16 league games this season, Taylor’s side have twice scored seven in a single game. They even managed to net eight against Bristol City back in October. During their six seasons under Cushing, the team scored seven in a match just once.
Taylor has undoubtedly been helped by City digging deep into their pockets to sign some of the world’s best players, and that is by no means an exaggeration when you take into account other additions beyond just Mewis and Lavelle.
Attending Man City’s first game of their ultimately successful 2016 league campaign, I remember that they only had four substitutes on the bench. One was goalkeeper Marie Hourihan, while the other three were players promoted from the club’s academy side; Amelia Kemp, now at Sunderland, Alethea Paul, who I now work with at Sheffield United, and the tragically departed Zoe Tynan.
At the time, I was critical of Cushing’s reluctance to delve deeper into the transfer market given the resources available to him. He preferred to put his faith in the likes of Daphne Corboz, Megan Campbell and at the time a young and untested Georgia Stanway to negate a pre-season injury crisis.
In the end, he was right and I was wrong, as he liked to remind me even years later! Taylor, though, has taken the foundations that Cushing built and constructed a fortress on top. His side may not win the league this season, but they have come roaring back from the pre-Christmas abyss and look every bit the superstar side everyone imagined they would become seven years ago.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty