It feels fitting to be writing this preview on International Women’s Day. City’s commitment to women’s football thus far has been exemplary, and with the game itself going from strength to strength in Britain, it seems like the 2016 season could be a breakout one in England, in terms of quality, competitiveness and crowds.
It all kicks off for the Blues a week on Saturday, when they face Liverpool away in the FA Women’s Cup. For the first time ever, MCWFC will be fighting on four fronts this season, and the FA Cup is one competition City should definitely be looking to win. The Blues will only need three victories to get to Wembley on May 14, and winning a trophy at the Home of Football would surely be the catalyst for a successful season. Although no match should ever be taken lightly, Liverpool are very much in a transitional phase at the moment, and it remains to be seen whether new manager Scott Rogers can improve on the travesty that was last season for the Reds. From a City perspective, this game and this Cup in there for the taking.
The girls start their league campaign soon after, with two home matches, one against Notts County on March 23, and one a tasty fixture against title rivals Arsenal on March 28. By the end of the month, City’s season could already be off to a high, if of course they get past Liverpool and make an early claim to the WSL title. Winning the league has to be the main aim for Nick Cushing and his charges this year; after coming so close last season, despite their lacklustre start, City will know it’s about time that their talent and squad strength proves its worth.
City’s European adventure won’t begin until October, however, as the WSL’s summer calendar puts English sides out of joint with the Champions League schedule. That said, by the time the Blues do begin their first foray into the big time, having a whole season’s worth of football behind them, with no international interruptions, will surely stand in their favour. Cushing and his team have bought wisely this off-season, securing the signatures of strikers Jane Ross and Kossovare Asllani, goalie Marie Hourihan and defender Megan Campbell, not to mention signing promising forward Nikita Parris on a permanent two-year deal, too. With seven City players currently representing England in the States, in the SheBelieves Cup, it’s hard to see a squad matching that of the Blues, in terms of international experience, technical ability and attacking nous. The likes of Chelsea and Arsenal will come closest, especially with the latter’s capture of Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala from Liverpool. The inaugural BBC Women’s Footballer of The Year will be looking to put a difficult first season in England behind her, and will be one for Steph Houghton and co. to watch out for at the Academy Stadium, when City take on the Gunners.
New girls Reading will also be set to prove that they are more than just Fran Kirby, and Sunderland will be looking to better their excellent start to Super League life last year. Two other fixtures which catch the eye occur in early May and August; City take on Doncaster Rovers Belles, a famous name in the women’s game, and a team who now have rivalry with City, thanks to the Blues’ ‘deposing’ of Donny in the first WSL 1 season (City automatically moved from the Women’s Premier League, whilst the Belles were demoted to the WSL 2). Previous games between the two sides have been spicy affairs, so it will be interesting to see whether the Belles still bear a grudge towards City, and indeed whether this will be the Blues’ ‘derby’ for the next few seasons. City’s dear neighbours down the road look unlikely to provide a proper women’s derby any time soon, after all.
One trophy the Blues will want to get their hands back on is the Continental Cup, which Nick Cushing’s side won so brilliantly in their first WSL season, back in 2014. The competition will change to a knock-out format this year, with City entering alongside the other WSL 1 teams to take on WSL 2 opposition in July. By then, City will have played eight league fixtures, and will hopefully be sitting pretty on top of the WSL 1 table. With two extra matches to take into account, thanks to the promotion of both Reading and Doncaster, and the chance to be involved in four competitions, 2016 looks set to be the biggest year yet for Man City Women, no mean feat when you consider how far the side has come recently. The Blues were only officially affiliated with MCFC in 2012, after all.
2016 will surely see a huge surge in terms of attendances, professionalism and quality among all associated with the club; a new MCWFC Supporters’ Club has been created, and with the prospect of matchday hospitality at the Academy Stadium, this season seems certain to reach new highs. Whether City run away with the league – which after last year’s runners-up position, must be the priority – remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; we are in for a treat in terms of the football on offer. Having won all three pre-season friendlies, including an impressive 3-1 victory over Swedish Champions FC Rosengard, City fans can afford to be confident. The signing of Asllani should get all Blues excited; coupled with the fact that playmaker Daphne Corboz has extended her contract, and Toni Duggan has once more found her shooting boots, the future is bright for Man City Women. All’s that left for us fans to do is to get down to the Academy Stadium and support them.