The 2019/2020 season was always going to be a tester for Manchester City.
Last season saw us win both domestic cups and although we remained unbeaten until the very last minute of the last game in the league, Arsenal just pipped us to the title. It was a monumental task to be able to better that, but one which we seemed determined to undertake.
The transfer window produced both ins and outs with the big news being the departure of last season’s top scorer Nikita Parris and the recruitment of FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 hero Ellen White as her replacement. Manchester City also added South Korean international Lee Guem-min, experienced FA Women’s Super League campaigners in Laura Coombs and Aoife Mannion plus Portuguese international defender Matilde Fidalgo.
The fixture computer produced a big one for the first game of the season. Newly-promoted Manchester United were the visitors in the first-ever professional women’s Manchester derby and the game was to be staged at The Etihad Stadium. There was lots of hype before the game which led to a tight affair, but a wonderstrike from Caroline Weir just after the break proved to be the winning goal to get us off to a flyer.
Manchester City followed that victory up in September with impressive wins over both Reading and Everton in the FA Women’s Super League and Leicester City in the FA Women’s Continental League Cup. There was also progress in the UEFA Women’s Champions League after Manchester City defeated FF Lugano 1976 over two legs. The last-16 draw was unkind as we were again paired with the excellent Atletico Madrid outfit that knocked us out of the competition last season.
In this season’s encounter with Atletico, we could only manage a 1-1 draw in the first leg at The Academy Stadium. The next three games saw Manchester City hit an extremely rough patch. We lost 2-0 to Manchester United in an FA Women’s Continental League Cup group game, were defeated 1-0 at FA Women’s Super League champions Arsenal and suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in the second leg of our UEFA Women’s Champions League last-16 tie out in Madrid to seal another disappointing early exit from Europe. Another blow had previously come in the home leg as new signing Mannion picked up a serious Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury that curtailed what had been an excellent start to her career at the club.
Manchester City responded well to the setbacks in typical battling style and put together a formidable run of form throughout November. Birmingham City, West Ham United and Bristol City were all swept aside and a win at Everton got the club’s FA Women’s Continental League Cup defence back on track too.
December started with a narrow 1-0 win over a dogged Liverpool team followed by a very unlucky 2-1 defeat away to a very good Chelsea side. Manchester City had lead through an excellent Weir goal but two quick-fire strikes from the home side saw them sneak the points. We were so unlucky not to get a draw at Kingsmeadow but there were a lot of positives still to be taken from matching such a good team for so long on their own patch. The last game of 2019 saw Manchester City dispatch Brighton & Hove Albion with a 5-0 win on home soil, leaving the team in a positive mood to continue a serious title challenge in the New Year.
The Year 2020 saw Manchester City begin where they left off as Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Birmingham City were defeated in the FA Women’s Super League while we hit second tier side Sheffield United for four in the quarter-finals of the FA Women’s Continental Cup. Unfortunately, there was a cloud on the horizon. The shock announcement from manager Nick Cushing that he was to leave his position as head coach and take up a role at New York City men’s team was one that rocked supporters. Cushing has been the mainstay of the success at the club and him leaving was certainly a worry. The team would continue on for the next four fixtures under Cushing’s guidance then assistant Alan Mahon would take over as interim boss for the rest of the season.
The fears surrounding the team were to be tested straight away as the Women’s FA Cup had again paired Manchester City away to Manchester United. This time was different though as the team performed excellently and battled to see off our bitter rivals 3-2 and progress. It was a result that Cushing especially seemed to enjoy afterwards.
The exertions against Manchester United and the furore surrounding Nick did seem to take their toll in the following game as Manchester City’s defence of the FA Women’s Continental League Cup came to an end in the semi-final with a narrow 2-1 defeat at Arsenal. Any worries were blown away in the very next game, Cushing’s last in charge, a pivotal clash against The Gunners at The Academy Stadium. Goals from Pauline Bremer and the sensational Lauren Hemp sealed a 2-1 win and a fitting finale to Cushing’s amazing era at the club.
The beginning of Alan Mahon’s tenure suffered a delay as the game at West Ham United fell foul of the weather, so a narrow 1-0 win over Bristol City at The Academy Stadium saw his era get off to a winning start the following midweek. In his next game, a Women’s FA Cup home tie against Ipswich Town, Mahon would see Manchester City make a bit of history. The Blues rattled in 10 goals without reply to set a record score for them in the professional era and amazingly the game also saw Pauline Bremer, Jess Park and Georgia Stanway all claim first tricks. It wasn’t such a bad result for a new manager’s second game in charge.
The following weekend saw Manchester City at home again and this time it was the game that many felt could be crucial in the destination of the title as it was Chelsea’s turn to visit The Academy Stadium. In the past, this tough fixture has often been a tight affair but this time it produced goals. A 3-3 scoreline, the FA Women’s Super League’s ‘Game of the Season’ so far and that only tells part of the story of this epic encounter. Both teams lead, both teams trailed, there were missed penalties, wonderstrikes and bad misses, it had the lot. Both teams know that they could have won it or indeed lost it, so a draw seemed the fairest result at the end.
That is where we stand during this international break. For Manchester City so far, it has been another rollercoaster of a season but we sit top of the league as we speak and although Chelsea have a game in hand and are only a point behind, we feel confident that we can put in a very strong run towards the end of the season and challenge for the double. It won’t be easy of course but with so much football still left to play this season, the one guaranteed thing is that it will certainly be exciting.
By Dave Sheel (Committee member – MCWFC OSC)