Women’s Super League 2022-23 previews No 8: Manchester City | Manchester City Women


The plan

“We need to win the league this season,” said Gareth Taylor, bluntly, before what promises to be a season of transition at the Academy Stadium. As if losing Ellen White, Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley to retirement, Lucy Bronze – and almost certainly Keira Walsh, too – to Barcelona, Georgia Stanway to Bayern Munich and Caroline Weir to Real Madrid were not taxing enough, City’s manager saw his side eliminated from the Champions League when they fell to a 1-0 defeat in their qualifier at Real Madrid in August.

With Barcelona set to add his key midfielder Walsh to their squad after agreeing a record fee for England’s anchor, Taylor has quite a challenge on his hands as he continues to preside over a significant squad overhaul. One familiar face staying put is the former England captain Steph Houghton, and City could do with their influential 34-year-old centre-half showing that the achilles injury that sidelined her for much of last season is firmly in the past.

Results

Houghton has been joined by some exciting, high-calibre reinforcements including the Venezuela forward Deyna Castellanos, recruited from Atlético Madrid, the Spain left-back Leila Ouahabi, signed from Barcelona, the Spain right-back or centre-half Laia Aleixandri, previously with Atlético, and the former Montpellier forward and Australia international Mary Fowler. At 19 years of age, Fowler, who can play as a striker or attacking midfielder, is regarded as one of the most exciting emerging talents in the game.

Although City recovered from a sticky start to finish third last season, Taylor’s team ended up nine points behind the champions, Chelsea, and eight adrift of Arsenal. It did not help that Taylor’s first-choice goalkeeper, Ellie Roebuck, spent the first half of that campaign sidelined by injury. This term Roebuck is ready to resume duty as an integral part of a slick-passing, increasingly possession-based side propelled by their England wingers Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly and protected by the England defenders Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes. Taylor’s reconstruction project looks exciting but high risk and the fear at the Etihad Campus is that Walsh’s exit could prove a tipping point where controlled transition turns into turmoil. It is said no one is indispensable but the world record transfer fee agreed for Walsh emphasises her importance to City.

The manager

Taylor took a little while to adjust his management style to working with senior, invariably independent-minded, female players after his move from City’s men’s youth setup to succeed Nick Cushing in 2020. The word was that the former Wales striker could be slightly autocratic but, despite never quite seeing eye to eye with Bronze, Taylor softened his approach to generally beneficial effect. The 49-year-old – who, in the course of a widely travelled playing career had a stint in Manchester City’s attack – is regarded as an excellent coach but his signings will be under scrutiny in the wake of a summer of wholesale change.

Key player

Lauren Hemp: It is sometimes hard to believe that Hemp is still only 22. A winger with four PFA young player of the year titles to her name, she was an integral part of England’s Euro 2022 triumph. Although Hemp is not yet the finished article she is already on the verge of establishing herself as a world class talent. Deployed mainly wide on the left she is involved – both creating and sometimes scoring – in a high percentage of City’s goals. Invariably modest and reassuringly down to earth, Hemp left her family home in North Norfolk at the age of 16 to join Bristol City, arriving at City in 2018 and has never looked back. Kelly Smith, once England’s finest forward says of her: “There are not too many players that get me off my seat but Lauren Hemp is one. When she gets the ball, she makes things happen, she dribbles so fast, she’s lethal.”

Big summer signing

Fowler is regarded as a potential international superstar. With a father from the Republic of Ireland and a mother from Papua New Guinea, Fowler, who was born in Cairns, has ties across the world and, on and off the pitch, is unusually mature for her age. Capable of playing in an attacking midfield role as well as up front she scored 10 goals in 40 appearances for Montpellier. Alex Stajcic, the former Australia coach, has said: “Mary has probably got the most amount of weapons I’ve ever seen in a women’s footballer of her age group.” She already has 26 caps and seven Australia goals.

Mary Fowler of Australia.
City have high hopes of their Australian signing Mary Fowler. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Euro 2022 delight/heartache

Supersub winger Kelly scored the goal that clinched Euro 2022 for England; Hemp impressed on the left wing; ditto the outstanding, if now out-going, Walsh in central midfield, while Greenwood and Stokes were also part of Sarina Wiegman’s squad. The former Lionesses captain Houghton would not be human if she had not experienced some mixed feelings watching her erstwhile teammates win the tournament having narrowly failed to make the final squad herself.

Bring on the crowds

City have sold a record number of season tickets and will play the Manchester derby against Marc Skinner’s United at the Etihad Stadium on 11 December. Their first game, against Arsenal, on Sunday, at the Academy Stadium, is sold out.



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