KATHRYN BATTE: Man City have been overtaken by their United rivals

KATHRYN BATTE: Manchester City have been overtaken by their United rivals after taking their foot off the gas in recent years in the WSL… they have STAGNATED and now they have some serious catching up to do

  • Manchester City failed to heed the warning from Man United made years ago
  • Now they have been leapfrogged by their ‘noisy neighbours’ in red
  • Their new sporting director Nils Neilsen has a huge job on his hands now

They say the hardest thing to do after winning is to keep winning. While Pep Guardiola’s side were celebrating a third consecutive Premier League title, 18 miles away at Leigh Sports Village the women’s team were surrendering.

For nine years, Manchester City ruled women’s football in these parts. When they joined the WSL in 2014 there was no opposition, Manchester United did not exist.

Even when United made the decision to re-form in 2018, they were forced to start in the Championship. City had a four-year head start and were miles ahead, on and off the pitch. So how, in the space of five years, have they let themselves be overtaken?

United’s first ever league victory over City saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time at the expense of their rivals, who are all-but mathematically out of the European equation.

This has been coming. City have not lifted a title since winning their first in 2016. They have stagnated. The club had four seasons of finishing second, five if you include the 2017 Spring Series, before dropping to third place. 

Manchester United women beat Manchester City in an enthralling encounter on Sunday

Man City have taken their foot off the accelerator and have fallen behind their cross-city rivals in recent years

United let the final Champions League spot slip from their grasp last year and a more experienced City side took advantage, just. But City did not heed that warning. They could see United in their rear view mirror but instead of pressing the accelerator they took their foot off the gas.

Responsibility usually lies with the manager Gareth Taylor, but he has not had it easy. Every season he has had to deal with a high turnover of players but last summer was by the far the worst with Lucy Bronze, Georgia Stanway, Caroline Weir and Keira Walsh all leaving. 

They were experienced WSL players while most of City’s new recruits, who barely had a pre-season to settle in, came from different leagues. The question City need to ask themselves is why have they struggled to retain players season after season?

It is up to new sporting director Nils Neilsen to solve that puzzle. Is Taylor the right man to take the club forward?

In his first interaction with the press Nielsen mentioned his desire to sign a goalscorer, a remark that seemed strange at the time given this year saw Bunny Shaw become City’s highest-scoring women’s player across a single season. 

But when you look at the stats you can see why Nielsen believes this is an area to address. For shots on target City are ranked 10th out of the 12 teams in the league.

For big chances converted they are 11th but their xG (expected goals) is the highest in the division. That is simply not good enough for a team with their quality.

Before Sunday’s game Chloe Kelly had created 74 chances in the WSL – the most of any player. Second in that list? Her team-mate Lauren Hemp with 51. There have been countless games where City have dropped points because they have not been ruthless enough in front of goal. 

United’s Lucia Garcia (left) sealed victory with virtually the last attack of the game

The blame will fall on City boss Gareth Taylor but is that really fair given the player turnover he has had to deal with

How much responsibility should the manager take for that? The problem for Taylor is that not having Champions League football will make it even harder to retain current players and sign new ones. 

The only benefit is that it will finally allow Taylor to have a proper pre-season with his players while United and Arsenal will be forced into an early start not long after the World Cup.

Interestingly, all five of City’s defeats this season have come away from home – Chelsea, Arsenal, United, Aston Villa and Liverpool. 

City’s Chloe Kelly is one of the WSL’s best chance creators but has struggled with her team’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal

The pitch at City Academy Stadium is known to be one of the biggest in the WSL, which suits City’s style of football. But you have to be able to adapt.

After Sunday’s game Sky Sports pundit Rachel Yankey was asked whether City’s season should be seen as a failure. 

She refused to commit to a proper answer. The reality is clear. This is a club where coming second should not be an option, never mind third or fourth. 

City were once envied by the red half of Manchester but the power has shifted. They have been knocked off their perch by the ‘noisy neighbours’ and now they have some catching up to do.

Norwich sporting director’s needless comments

Norwich City’s sporting director Stuart Webber does not like women’s football. He has no interest in it and does not enjoy watching it. That is fine, but he does not need to shout about it from the rooftops. 

What good does that do? It does not help the players who wear the club’s shirt or the one’s that have ambitions to do so in the future. In one car-crash interview Webber has un-done all of the good work Norwich has achieved in supporting and growing their women’s team. 

One wonders what Norwich fan Lauren Hemp, one of the biggest stars in the women’s game, made of his comments.

Norwich City’s sporting director Stuart Webber has undone the good work the club have put into supporting their women’s team

Webber is not the only person in the football industry to hold this view but most are not stupid enough to speak about it publicly. There are many that feel the need to let everybody in women’s football know that they ‘do not care’ about the game or what happens. What they fail to realise is that, quite frankly, nobody cares that they don’t care.

Arsenal star demonstrates her managerial mindset 

Vivianne Miedema may make a fine manager when she finally hangs up her boots. The Arsenal forward has completed her UEFA B licence and while she would not automatically strike you as somebody with a touchline presence, she is not afraid to call out perceived unacceptable standards both on and off the pitch. 

In an interview with Dutch newspaper AD Sportwereld Miedema questioned her own club for only having two physios for the entire women’s team. ‘We at Arsenal have to stay fit with two physiotherapists for a complete squad of more than 20 players. How can that go well? If we want to have fewer injuries in women’s football, that really needs to improve.’ 

Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema has shown she has the mindset to become a great manager

Miedema continued: ‘A sold out Emirates Stadium when we play Champions League with Arsenal is wonderful. But look further. Some clubs in our League only employ a part-time physio. Girls change in a kind of cabins and there is a field where you don’t want to let cows loose yet.’ 

Miedema’s personality and desire to drive standards feels similar to that of England manager Sarina Wiegman – and we know how well she has done.

Levy’s shrewd investment pays off 

The £250,000 Tottenham spent on Bethany England in January may be the best piece of business Daniel Levy has done for some time. 

Bethany England has repaid the faith shown in her by almost single-handedly keeping Spurs in the WSL

England has, almost single-handedly, kept Spurs in the WSL with the goals that she has scored since her move from Chelsea. 

The 29-year-old has not been in the last three Lionesses’ squads and while Sarina Wiegman has two fine forward options in Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly, England is surely worth a place in the manager’s 23-player squad for the World Cup. 

Given that there is a chance Daly may have to revert to left back at some point during the tournament, England would offer much as a possible impact substitute if the Lionesses need a goal. 

What is certain is that England could not have done more to state her case for a place on the plane to Australia.

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