Up to six of England’s Euro 2022-winning stars are set to return to competitive action on Thursday as Manchester City begin their Women’s Champions League qualifying campaign, but striker Ellen White will not feature after being given some extended time off for personal reasons.
Manchester City's Lionesses were the first of Sarina Wiegman's victorious squad to resume training with their club last week, owing to them facing Tomiris-Turan of Kazakhstan on Thursday in Madrid. The English club will need to win that match and then also a second one-legged match on Sunday between the winners of Real Madrid and Sturm Graz to get through to September’s second round of qualifying, on the road to reach October’s group stage.
Head coach Gareth Taylor praised the "humility" of his side's European champions and the professional way that he feels they have switched their focus straight back onto club matters after winning at Wembley in front of more than 17 million viewers on television, adding: "There are very few egos that I see in the women’s game and I think that’s what a lot of people love.
"One thing I really admire in the women’s game, particularly with us [City's players] but I’ve seen it across the board, the humility of these players, that’s something to be really impressed with. Hopefully the game doesn’t change too much because you can see there’s a lot of change happening, there’s a lot of focus [on the women's game], which I think is amazing, but certainly from our end, the way our players behaved at the Euros and how they’ve adapted to this new found fame and focus, they’ve been a credit to the club."
Taylor said that one of his team's seven Euros winners, striker White, England's record women's goalscorer, will not travel to this week's qualifiers for "personal reasons", saying: "At the moment she’s not back with us because we’ve given her some extended time away."
But City's other six, including the final's winning goalscorer Chloe Kelly, winger Lauren Hemp, defenders Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes, star midfielder Keira Walsh and goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, are all available to feature in Thursday's game.
Taylor said this summer's schedule had "limited" the amount of rest the club had been able to give their Euros players of all nationalities and the "demands on modern-day footballers are really tough" but said "we have had a good few days training with those girls", adding: "I think they’re OK. Sometimes the issue you can have with giving them too long off is deconditioning [after a tournament].
"We’ve had good discussions around each individual with the team staff and there’ll be players who have potential asterisks next to, that’s normal, maybe due to a lack of minutes or maybe a lot of minutes, but one thing we don’t want to do is underestimate tomorrow’s opposition."
Taylor's team will also welcome back their skipper and the former England captain Steph Houghton, who missed large parts of last season with an achilles problem that ultimately saw her left out of the Lionesses' Euros squad, and Taylor called her return a "huge boost", adding: "Steph is a big player for us on and off the pitch, the leadership she brings is second-to-none, it's great to have her back."
Owing to the lack of regular broadcast coverage of the Kazakhstani league, Taylor admitted that City "don't know a hell of a lot" about Thursday's opponents Tomiris-Turan but said "we have managed to get some footage but it took a while", describing them as an "aggressive" team. City are involved in this round of qualifying after finishing third in the Women's Super League last term. They were knocked out of Europe last season in the second qualifying round by Real Madrid, their most likely opponents for this Sunday.