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How Man City displaced two-time champions Liverpool as consistent WSL title contenders

  • December 3, 2019
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While Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are running away from Pep Guardiola’s City, it’s the complete opposite for the women as they prepare to meet in the WSL

There was a time in the women’s game when, like those matches between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s sides, clashes between Manchester City and Liverpool were huge.

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The two clubs have won three of the last six WSL titles between them, while Nick Cushing’s prowess in cup competitions has helped City to three Continental Cups and two FA Women’s Cups in the same time frame.

But a lot has changed in the five years since Liverpool collected their last piece of silverware: a second successive league title which came with huge thanks to the Citizens, whose win over leaders Chelsea on the final day allowed the Reds to jump from third to first at the death.

That was City’s first season as a professional team. The promise of what they could become was hinted at by the Conti Cup triumph they achieved in that first year.

But while Cushing was using a strong core of England internationals to build an impressively consistent squad in Manchester, who have finished in the top two in the WSL in each of the last four seasons, Liverpool’s back-to-back titles would prove to be anything but a springboard.

After losing no fewer than seven of their title-winning squad in the off-season, a certain Lucy Bronze and seasoned England international Gemma Davison among them, manager Matt Beard departed 12 months later.

Since then, the Reds have as many faces in the dugout as City have collected trophies. Current boss Vicky Jepson is their fifth coach in four years after Beard, Scott Rogers, Neil Redfearn and a caretaker spell for Chris Kirkland, and she goes into Sunday’s game under some pressure.

That is not entirely her fault. Last year was a difficult campaign, with Liverpool finishing eighth in the league, and over the summer, Jepson’s hands were tied somewhat in the transfer market.

The players she did bring in were shrewd additions – Becky Jane, an experienced head for the defence. Mel Lawley, a lively winger on the fringes of the England squad. Jade Bailey, a promising young midfielder who might have been a regular in Phil Neville’s Lionesses team by now were it not for some serious knee injuries.

But things have not fallen into place for the Reds, whose narrow 1-0 defeat to reigning champions Arsenal last week extended their winless start to the new season.

“You saw Bristol lose 7-1 here in midweek. Look at the quality in our squad and the way we’ve held them out. I’ve got no worry whatsoever and neither have the players,” Jepson, whose team remain at the foot of the WSL standings, told the Guardian after the game.

“It’s too early to talk about the table. We’ve got a tough run now, but we’ll be okay this season because we’ve got too much quality.

“We’re in a good place. It’s taken time – we were guilty of falling behind and the club’s responded to that. It may be a bit reactive, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States with both the men’s and women’s teams was a sign of unity at the club that hasn’t been seen much in the past, as was Jepson’s side playing at Anfield two weeks ago against Everton.

The now-completed recruitment of a full backroom team is another step in the right direction for this club.

Meanwhile, Manchester City have set the standard for what a club with a women’s team should look like. The pristine facilities that greet their players at every game and every training session are not just a selling point when recruiting new talent, but an environment that breeds a winning mentality.

“The standards — being able to walk in and have an ice bath. Ice costs a lot of money!” Ellen White, City’s big summer signing, told the Times.

“[The canteen] is just ridiculous. We literally get breakfast and [all kinds of] food. I haven’t been at a single club who have offered that. Even at 30 years old, I’m super-privileged to be able to have this.”

The state-of-the-art rehabilitation centre has been an area White herself has got well acquainted with since joining, spending the first few months of the season recovering from a knee injury.

But since returning to action she hasn’t looked back, scoring three goals in her last four games for the Citizens – her latest coming in their 5-0 rout of Bristol City last Sunday.

This weekend, her task will be to continue that rich vein of form and ensure Liverpool remain stuck in what is a frustrating rut. It’s a task she is sure to relish given she has had a lot of good fortune against the club in the past, with five goals and three assists in her last six WSL games against them.

Good fortune is something that has evaded the Reds, however.

“I think we have been quite unlucky. The results have been very tight. It’s sort of like the little margins that we’ve just missed out on,” Liverpool midfielder Amy Rodgers told Goal.

“It’s obviously just us finishing our chances we’ve created. It is really little margins, nothing massive. There’s not a big problem.”

That’s a view shared away from Merseyside, too.

“I have been saying this for the last three or four weeks: They have got a very good squad, a very, very good squad,” Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro said last weekend.

“I don’t like commenting on other teams and so on, but it is very surprising. I think they will pick up points and they will get themselves out of that position.”

But for now, while Guardiola’s men trail Klopp’s pacesetters by nine points, Cushing’s team are some way ahead of Jepson’s.

And in the mini-Etihad on Sunday, it will take some upset for the Reds to get one over City.

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