Manchester City Women had a short but tough pre-season, finding themselves beaten comfortably by 1. FFC Frankfurt and Montpellier HSC, but triumphed over current Champion’s League holders Olympique Lyonnais in a game that saw City put in brilliant defensive and attacking displays to grab a late win.
With key players such as Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan and Kosovare Asllani leaving the club in the over the summer, City were forced into fielding experimental sides that included youngsters from the development squad, along with new signing Pauline Bremer.
Last season, City’s first XI often picked itself, but it’s not so clear-cut this time around. So, how will City line up in their first WSL game of the 2017-18 season against Yeovil? Here are our picks for the hotly-contested 11 spots:
With Karen Bardsley out injured, Marie Hourihan has to start. Hourihan has impressed as Ireland’s new number one, keeping clean sheets in 75% of the matches she’s played in, and conceded just one goal throughout City’s entire Continental Cup-winning campaign last season. Ellie Roebuck isn’t commanding or assured enough make the number two ‘keeper shirt her own yet, but the potential is there after demonstrating a number of impressive stops for the Blues.
Marie Hourihan makes an acrobatic save to deny Olympique Lyonnais
With new signing Mie Leth Jans and Jen Beattie both out injured, along with the departure of Lucy Bronze, the City’s defensive options are a bit thin on the ground.
In the heart of defence, Steph Houghton is a no-brainer. Want a defender that wins 90% of aerial duels contested and can score a last-minute winner? Steph’s your go-to. Both Meg Campbell and Abbie McManus have done well at centre-back when fit, but Meg Campbell is more attack-minded and her throw-ins are a welcome addition to any City XI, so she starts alongside Houghton. Campbell assisted and scored a goal mid-week for Ireland in their opening World Cup Qualifier, so hopefully that form continues against Yeovil. Abbie McManus does gain a place in the starting line up at right-back, though. Cushing has experimented with Claire Emslie here in pre-season, presumably to retain some of the now-departed Bronze’s attacking threat down the right, but when points are on the line, defensive solidity trumps attacking threat and so McManus should start. Finally, Demi Stokes has had the left back position sewn up for a while. Back to her attacking best for England against Russia on Tuesday, Stokes supplied teammates with teasing crosses and had a shot on the edge of the area blocked. More of that for City, please (except, you know, score).
Keira Walsh is pretty much untouchable in the defensive midfield role. She could turn on a five pence piece in a phone box she’s that good – it’s no surprise that her idol is David Silva. Ahead of her, Jill Scott must surely be on the team sheet. Often City’s best player last season, Scott is the master of transitioning from defence to attack and likes to pop up on the right wing from time to time. Izzy Christiansen has come on leaps and bounds in the last few games for City after looking a bit off the pace at the start of last season. Seemingly full of energy once more, Christiansen is a willing runner and a real driving force in midfield. Add to that her ability of scoring screamers and pulling off the odd flair pass, Christiansen could feature heavily in the middle alongside Scott for the Blues this season.
Out wide, Georgia Stanway and Nikita Parris feature. With Toni Duggan having departed for Barcelona and Kosovare Asllani for Linköpings, Stanway and Parris are their respective natural replacements. Stanway is a potent a threat from distance, and with City’s strikers often struggling for goals, goals from midfield could make the difference over the season. Parris has transformed herself recently, often looking like City’s game changer last season. If Nikita can continue to develop the ability to execute the right play under pressure more often, she’ll be a real threat. Mel Lawley picket up an injury while on England duty, so isn’t in contention for a place.
Up top is a tough pick. Does the familiar but often unsuccessful Jane Ross start, or do new-signings Pauline Bremer or Claire Emslie receive the go-ahead and get domestic life underway at their new club? City’s strikers have looked sharp in the off-season, with Jane Ross scoring an outstanding brace against Montpellier, Bremer turning in from close-range to seal City’s excellent 3 – 2 pre-season win over Lyon and Emslie scoring on her debut for Scotland. It’s a difficult choice, but Ross frustrated so much last season by spurning an unbelievable amount of chances that any witness to her crimes against football are now bald, and a game against a newly-promoted side might just be what Bremer and Emslie need to get them settled into the squad. City killing off games early on and maintaining their excellent defensive record could prove to be a killer combo, and so the prospect of a new goalscorer bedding in early into the season is an insanely exciting prospect, therefore the hot-prospect Pauline Bremer gets the start ahead of both Ross and Emslie.
Pauline Bremer opens her account for City, scoring a late winner against Olympique Lyonnais
Agree or disagree with our picks? Let us know what your City XI versus Yeovil would be in the comments!