By his own exceptionally high standards, much of Manchester City’s 2021/22 season has been marred by mediocrity.
City had finished inside the top two of the Women’s Super League every year since its inauguration in 2014, but now find themselves temporarily eliminated.
For a campaign that began with such optimism, after finishing runners-up in the WSL and reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League the previous year, City’s delivery has not lived up to expectations.
In mid-November, having lost 4-0 to Chelsea, their third home loss of the season, the picture was alarmingly bleak.
The manner of that loss was somewhat humiliating and put untold pressure on manager Gareth Taylor.
City sat eighth in the WSL table, seven points off third place in the Champions League, and had collected just seven points from seven games. The cost of a series of disappointing results.
Hopes of a relaunch to their languid season seemed incongruous at the time, but a team with as much technical knowledge and talent as Manchester City can never be ruled out.
Fast-forward six months and the change has been quite remarkable, if not outright amazing.
The status of the WSL table, while implying, didn’t exactly tell the whole story. City’s early season predicament was largely circumstantial.
An astonishingly long injury list, which included captain Steph Houghton, FIFA Best Women’s Player award winner Lucy Bronze, both first-choice goalkeepers plus Chloe Kelly, Esme Morgan, Keira Walsh and Demi Stokes, among other times, it meant that Taylor’s team suffered from inconsistencies never before experienced by such a successful team. The instability was almost foreign.
Follow Chelsea vs Man City on Sky Sports
Follow Chelsea vs Man City in the Women’s FA Cup Final on our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports digital platforms.
The reset button had to be pressed.
City’s fortunes since the turn of the year put their start to the campaign in stark contrast. They have won 21 of their previous 23 ties in all competitions, including 13 wins in a row.
They have won their fourth Continental Cup, at Chelsea’s expense, and secured Champions League football for the new term. Quite an unlikely feat at the midpoint of the season.
speaking to mancity.com This week, the Bronze defender admitted that City’s resurgence has made this year feel like “two seasons in one”. He also revealed that early setbacks have made recent achievements “more special.”
City’s FA Cup dreams were finally dashed by Chelsea last season, so is it time for the axis to shift north once more? Does disappointment breed revenge?
The Sky Blues have already tried cutlery this season, and that game itself presents an interesting juncture. The 3-1 win over Chelsea in March almost lifted a weight off Taylor and City. His stutter earlier in the season can be blamed, in part, on his catalog of crippling injuries, but City’s league cup knock marked a return to true form.
The Manchester blue team has yet to lose, or draw, a game since lifting the Continental Cup. The momentum swing has been used to great effect.
They also have plenty of recent history in FA Cup competition: domestic cups are almost becoming a stronghold, winning three of the last five FA Cup winners’ medals on offer (2017, 2019 and 2020). In fact, City have a 100 per cent winning record in FA Cup finals, having won three out of three.
So can the cup specialists dismantle the newly crowned champions of England? The task is still substantial, but not impossible.
Chelsea, of course, are no strangers to cup success. They are the reigning FA Cup champions, after all. In fact, both teams have won the trophy three times in total and sky sports Karen Carney is hoping for another low-margin opportunity.
“It will be tight,” he began. “You’re looking at the two fittest teams. People will say ‘what about Arsenal?’ but I think Chelsea and City are the ones.”
“City are undefeated since the beginning of February: their goals are quite spectacular in this period. The goals against also improve significantly. If you have 10 injured players, like them, it affects your training, your culture, the games, the results.
“Most of their core players are fitter and more stable. They’ve found their groove again. A part of me favors them.”
face to face this season
- They last met in the League Cup final at Plow Lane on 5 March – City came from behind to win 3-1
- It was City’s first win in 10 games. Chelsea had won seven of the previous nine
- Chelsea won both WSL meetings this season: 4-0 away and 1-0 at home
In this case, the form throughout the season is a problematic indicator. Carney believes that with a fully fit squad, the Sky Blues are more than a match for any domestic opposition, while he acknowledges the importance of Chelsea’s trophy-laden road to the top.
“Chelsea are WSL champions – after the euphoria of winning the league, they’ll want to do twice as much for the players that are leaving.
“But I only think about the big field, the retention of the ball, what happened in the Conti Cup final: Man City will have the right confidence. I give them the advantage.”
“I haven’t seen a team give Chelsea as much trouble as Man City in that final for a long time. City caused so much trouble on the wings, with possession, moving the ball back and forth very well.
“If they can keep Sam Kerr quiet, they definitely have a chance.
“That said, even if City dominates and is the best team, it doesn’t guarantee victory. Chelsea are resilient; in stressful moments they don’t panic, they solve problems, they get out of difficult situations. That’s why it’s going to be very tight. “.
Separating the two sides is a complicated perspective; even their face-to-face history is bland. Of their 29 games, Chelsea have 11 wins to City’s 10. So what will be does the day count?
“I prefer City to have control of the ball, but Chelsea are very good in transition – they can catch any team. That’s what won them the FA Cup last year,” the former Chelsea midfielder continued.
“This is not a one off game, both teams have had to earn the right to be here. This is just the last game of the season. City are in great form, the key players are back, they have goals left, forehand and center: confidence will be through the roof.
“It’s just a case of moments. Who can be clinical in those key moments?”
He added: “With the team they have, City should be winning trophies. It’s not a surprise, we should be talking about them in cup finals. It should be an expectation. There are always opportunities to improve, but it’s to be expected.” they are demanding to win more trophies.
“There are some players leaving Chelsea this season so this is perhaps the beginning of a transition period for them. Starting to bring in new players. A rebuilding of sorts. This group will want to win it and if they do, they will. they will.” establish them as the best team in England at the moment.”
So the crescendo at Wembley Stadium this Sunday will be an eye-opener. If City succeed, it will mark one of the greatest renaissances over the course of a single season that women’s football has witnessed, however accustomed City may have been to success previously.
If Chelsea emerge victorious, their commanding dominance over women’s football will begin to rival Arsenal’s dominance in the 2000s. Their accounts still don’t add up, but the Blues are starting to establish themselves as the powerhouse of women’s football in England.