Standout performer, best signing & more

Standout performer, best signing & more

Manchester City have signed until 2022, sitting fourth in the WSL table and seeing their Champions League journey come to a premature end once again.

It was a busy transfer window for City ahead of the 2022/23 campaign, with several key players departing and a number of new additions arriving to plug the gaps afterwards.

City’s new side had a difficult start to the season but have since bounced back to stay within striking distance of the top three heading into the second half of the 2022/23 campaign.

With four WSL games against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United still to come in 2023, the season could really go either way for City.

After an injury crisis derailed the first half of City’s 2021/22 campaign, they embarked on an impressive second-half winning streak to eventually overtake rivals Manchester United and secure their place final in the Champions League, as well as lifting the Continental Cup in March.

Despite a strong finish to the season, Gareth Taylor’s side head into the 2022/23 campaign on the back foot once again after a summer of massive squad turnover.

Eight players left City for good during the transfer window, notably the losses of midfielders Caroline Weir, Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway and right-back Lucy Bronze.

Forward Ellen White also retired on the eve of the new season. This was essentially the backbone of the City team. Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley called time on their respective careers, while goalkeeper Karima Benameur Taieb joined Marseille.

City brought in seven new faces in the summer and while they were all international-caliber players, a settling-in period would be required.

Steph Houghton, Ellen White

City won last season’s Continental Cup / Justin Setterfield / GettyImages

The 2022/23 season did not start well for City. For the second year in a row, they were knocked out of the Champions League in the qualifying rounds by Real Madrid – Caroline Weir scoring the decisive goal only rubbed more salt into the wound. The domestic season also got off to a stuttering start as City suffered two successive WSL defeats – a shock 4-3 loss to Aston Villa on the opening day, before being beaten 2-0 by the champions of the league, Chelsea.

Since the international break in October, the pieces have started to fall into place at City. They won nine on the bounce in all competitions and ended the calendar year with a 1-1 draw with rivals Manchester United in front of a record crowd at the Etihad Stadium.

City sit three points off the top three and eight points behind WSL leaders Chelsea, having played a game less than the Blues. With two games against Arsenal and one each against Chelsea and Manchester United to play, Taylor has his sights set on more than just European football.

“We want to win the league,” said the City manager after the 1-1 draw with United. “We’re not just looking at the Champions League. We’ve put ourselves in a position to win the league. If we win all our games in the second half of the season, we win the league, it’s as simple as that. We’ve shown we can keep winning “.

There hasn’t been a standout win or moment for City this term, rather a string of good results and consistent performances. So the City highlight isn’t necessarily an iconic landmark of their season, but has been chosen for what it represents in the larger context of their campaign.

Laura Coombs volleyed the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box to score City’s third goal in half an hour against Brighton in December – a 3-1 victory that marked their sixth consecutive victory in the league. This winning streak came despite such high squad turnover in the summer and the loss of so many vital players.

“I didn’t expect him to freeze so well so quickly,” new right back Kerstin Casparij said in October. “Obviously the first two games weren’t good, but now everything is coming together really well and we’ve really found our rhythm, we’ve found our feet.”

City lost all of their world-class starting midfield three of Weir, Walsh and Stanway in the summer. Coombs, largely a fringe player since joining the club in 2019, has stepped up in the trio’s absence and become a truly important player for City this season, scoring four goals in nine appearances from midfield

City’s winning streak has been against teams outside the WSL’s ‘big four’ but has included wins over Tottenham, a side who blew them away at a similar stage last season, and a much-improved Everton side. To click so quickly, and still be within touching distance of the Champions League places despite the exodus that took place over the summer, is City’s real strength. It will be interesting to see how they fare against Arsenal and Chelsea in the new year.

Having put together such an impressive run of wins in the second half of last season to take Manchester United to the bottom of the Champions League, City had crashed out of the competition in August.

Like last season, City faced tough opposition in the qualifying rounds in the form of Real Madrid and, like last season, crashed out before the group stage after failing to get past the Spanish side. To rub salt in the wound, it was former fan favorite Caroline Weir who netted the decisive winner, just three months after her departure from the club.

“You just need time and unfortunately in this format you don’t get anything, especially with the Euros,” Taylor said after the defeat.

“The Lionesses went all the way, which limited the exposure and the cohesion of the game. It’s the same for both teams though. It’s very early in the season to be playing this caliber of game.”

Taylor admitted that White’s retirement in August, announced a day after City crashed out of the Champions League, was “a little over the top”. But it was no case of panic for City as in Bunny Shaw they already had a player who had shared the starting striker role with the Whites last season, scoring nine goals in the WSL and previously boasting a fearsome scoring record with Bordeaux in France. .

With the role of ‘number nine’ now exclusively his, Shaw has excelled. The forward has found the net eight times in nine WSL appearances this season, averaging a goal every 96 minutes. Their aerial ability is lethal and has thrived thanks to the service provided by Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp on both wings.

Khadija Shaw

Shaw has been excellent for City this season / Lewis Storey / GettyImages

While it is his alertness, instinct and movement in the box that has proved so effective this season, Shaw also has a spectacular long haul to his credit, scoring a shocker from distance against Tottenham in the October

“He had a good season last year, people kind of overlook that, and he’s taken on the responsibility of being the number nine at this club,” Taylor said of Shaw in October. “She’s a young player, with many more to come. She believes. She’s going to score goals. She’s shown it before and she’s shown it here.”

Laura Coombs has also stepped up massively following City’s midfield exodus in the summer and deserves a mention for her excellent performances in the first half of the season.

City made seven new summer signings: Deyna Castellanos, Leila Ouahabi, Laia Aleixandri, Mary Fowler, Sandy MacIver, Kerstin Casparij and Yui Hasegawa, many of whom have already established themselves as regular starters.

Keira Walsh’s world-record move to Barcelona was confirmed in the closing stages of the window, leaving a huge void in City’s midfield. Hasegawa was brought in as a deadline day replacement, not to hold the midfielder by any means, but a player with similar technical talent.

The 25-year-old has fitted in perfectly, a perfect match for City’s passing style of play with her bravery on the ball, ability in tight spaces and composure. City have yet to lose a game in which Hasegawa has featured.

“It’s like he’s been playing for us for the last five or 10 years,” Taylor said after Hasegawa’s second City appearance. “A real maturity in her game. We’ve changed her position a bit because I’ve said she’s bright enough to play in all positions in the midfield. I can’t speak highly enough of her in how she’s come and how she’s come. has contributed”.

Laura Coombs has exclusively scored impressive or important goals for City this season. A well-taken brace against Aston Villa on the opening day, a wonderful goal from the edge of the box against Brighton in December and the vital equalizer in the Manchester derby a week later.

His second goal against Villa in September is the pick of the bunch. The midfielder collected Chloe Kelly’s cross on his chest and watched the ball bounce, before firing a stunning half-volley into the roof of the net. The technique was exquisite and it was such a sweet hit.

City’s new signings have settled in quickly, and December’s Manchester derby was the first ‘big four’ test for Taylor’s side since the team settled into the period. The 1-1 draw shows they are still competing with the league’s elite despite their squad turnover, but a title switch this season looks unlikely, although Taylor insists that remains his aim.

City are still in the mix for a Champions League spot, and to be there with a shout given the start they’ve had and the players they’ve lost is an achievement in itself. However, Manchester United have strengthened this season compared to last, while City’s players have contributed to fill the void created by summer signings rather than actively improving the squad.

It could go back to the wire, but City could miss out on the Champions League for the first time since their debut season as a WSL club.

Expected finish: 4th

Source: Standout performer, best signing & more

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