Women’s Super League 2021-22 previews No 8: Manchester City

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<span>Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The plan

Gareth Taylor’s side finished second, only two points behind Chelsea, last season and are on a mission to claim their first WSL title since 2016.

Burnout could prove the biggest barrier to silverware, however. Twelve City players travelled to the Olympics this summer – 10, including Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Lauren Hemp and Ellen White from Team GB alone – dictating there will be times when Taylor will need to rest key personnel. Matters are further complicated by Bronze’s absence from at least the early part of the campaign in the wake of recent knee surgery.

No matter; Janine Beckie, the City forward who secured a gold medal with Canada, believes the collective Olympic experience can inspire a side who have now ended up as WSL runners up five times in a row to finally go one better. “Winning gold just makes me more hungry for more trophies,” says Beckie. “It’s also made me more confident. And after the disappointment of just missing out last season we have a real hunger to win the league again.”

With Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle returning to the United States this summer, Taylor lost two World Cup-winning midfielders, but compensation has arrived in the shape of Spain’s Vicky Losada, who is fresh from captaining Barcelona to Champions League glory.

“Vicky Losada’s a legend,” says Beckie. “She’s been incredibly successful with Barcelona and she’s someone an awful lot of people would feel lucky to play alongside.”

The Canada international is similarly delighted about Taylor’s acquisition of the Jamaica forward Khadija Shaw from Bordeaux. “She’s a fantastic finisher and a fabulous asset,” says Beckie. “She’s definitely the missing piece of the jigsaw we needed; I’m super excited to play with her.”

Throw in Lauren Hemp, the richly gifted 21-year-old England winger, White and Hayley Raso, City’s new Australia forward acquired from Everton, into that forward line and Taylor seems spoilt for attacking choice.

He could though have done without Chloe Kelly, another immensely talented winger, rupturing a cruciate ligament in May and must cope with the defensive blow dealt by Bronze’s current absence.

City’s right-back is arguably the world’s best player in her position but there were times when she struggled a little last season and, announcing her “planned and successful surgery” Bronze revealed she had “been managing a lot of pain” in the past year since returning to the WSL from Lyon.

Given that City have revealed few details of the precise problem and set no timescale as to her return to training it remains unclear when the 29-year-old will be recovered from the fifth knee operation of her career.

Taylor took a little while to adjust his management style to working with senior, invariably independent minded, female players in the Bronze mould after his move from City’s men’s youth set up to succeed Nick Cushing last year.

The word was that the 48-year-old former Wales striker could be slightly autocratic but everyone agreed he was an excellent coach and such initial teething problems were soon banished as City won 14 of their last 15 WSL fixtures last term.

Gareth Taylor in conversation with Lauren Hemp (left) and Ellen White at the end of an FA Cup game in May.
Gareth Taylor in conversation with Lauren Hemp (left) and Ellen White at the end of an FA Cup game in May. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

They lost only once in the League but crucially that reverse came against Chelsea in October and was sufficient to secure Emma Hayes’s side the title.

“We just need more time together,” says a manager blessed with natural leaders, most notably, Houghton, White, Bronze and Losada, right across the pitch. “But we’ve shown real, constant improvement and can only go from strength to strength. We ran a very good Chelsea team very close for the title playing exciting football at real pace. I’m very excited.”

The manager

Gareth Taylor did a stellar job in his first season in charge of City as they were just two points off of winning the WSL title. His keen eye for team selection and ability to keep the team close-knit ensures a cohesive level of performance making them a title contender once again.

Key players

Vicky Losada The Spain international finished her five years at Barcelona by winning the Champions League, comprehensively beating Chelsea in the final. The 30-year-old midfielder is a complete player and will add experience and dynamism in the centre of the park.

Alex Greenwood The defender is a dynamic and influential presence in the City squad. She has title credentials to back up her performances and she is lauded as one of the best defenders in the league. She missed out on a Team GB spot and will be aching to show why they should have picked her.

Khadija Shaw City have added yet another international star to their squad in Khadija Shaw. The Jamaica forward describes herself as “simple and unpredictable” and is viewed as one of the most promising offensive players in the world. She holds the goalscoring record for her country, with an impressive 42 goals in 30 appearances.

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