New-look Manchester City women's team determined to make up for past season disappointments
Nick Cushing was doing the maths.
Manchester City begin their league campaign away at new champions Chelsea on Sunday. It pits last season’s top two against each other straight away. As the City manager argued, it gives the defeated party plenty of time to make up dropped points.
But then he noted: “No one has ever won the Women’s Super League losing more than two games. If you lose, it doesn’t give you much room [for error].”
As Chelsea did not lose in the league last season and City were beaten four times, it illustrates the scale of their task as they look to depose Emma Hayes’ side.
Yet they know it can be hard to win back-to-back titles: twelve months ago, City were the holders of three pieces of silverware but they retained none.
“We were disappointed not to win a trophy,” midfielder Jill Scott said. But Cushing argued: “If we look at last season, we were not far off.”
Second in the league, semi-finalists in both the Uefa Champions League and the FA Cup, they came close. “There is an element that not being successful is a big motivator for myself and the players,” Cushing added.
Ultimately, they ran out of players. It is something they have tried to address in a summer that yielded five new signings, even if the influential Izzy Christiansen left, and with Cushing considering adapting his approach to selection.
“We have done a lot of reviewing, looking at the back end of the season,” he explained. “We have always picked on form and maybe we need to rotate. Numbers was a big thing, going to a bigger squad."
One policy will be a constant.
“Having a young team is a real strategy but the good part is every season they get older and better,” an advocate of giving the up-and-coming a chance said.
“I am scared,” said Scott, a comparative veteran of 31. “I watch some of them in training at 18 or 19 and the talent is frightening.”
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One of those signings, Lauren Hemp, is 18.
She has been joined by defender Gemma Bonner, attacking midfielders Tessa Wullaert and Caroline Weir and forward Janine Beckie. “This is probably the most balanced squad we have had in five years,” Cushing said.
“We put a plan in place at Christmas for the players we wanted to add. And then Gemma Bonner became available.”
Scott added: “Gemma Bonner brings a vast amount of experience playing in the top league. I have played against her for years in Everton versus Liverpool.
"We all know what Caroline Weir can do: give her the ball and she is probably going to put it in the top corner from 30 yards. Over the years it has been making sure you stop her shooting so now it is nice to have her on the same team and encourage her to get some shots in.”
The Canadian Beckie represents more of an unknown quantity. “Technically, she is very good, in good physical shape so I am excited to see what she can do,” Scott said.
Yet expectations are highest of Wullaert, the 25-year-old player who is already Belgium’s record scorer and who has won titles in both her homeland and Germany.
“She has a real passion to win,” Scott said. Cushing added: “We highlighted at Christmas that Tessa would be a real asset for us because her ability to be offensive from midfield is exceptional.”
Wullaert and the other newcomers face the toughest of starts, with the visit to Chelsea being followed by a trip to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
“I can’t control the fixtures,” Cushing said. “But we are in a really good place.”