After conceding two goals in the opening four minutes of their Women’s Champions League last-16 tie away at Manchester City, many feared the worst for Fiorentina.
The hosts have not lost a game at the City of Football Academy in 90 minutes since late 2018, but their Italian visitors were quick to regroup after a devastating start to their away leg, and looked for long periods like they would return home with a result that was not insurmountable.
The sight of World Cup winners Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle coming on for the final 25 minutes, then, will have hardly been welcomed.
After defending admirably ever since conceding a second, it was fitting that it was ‘the Tower of Power’ herself, Mewis, who ensured the final scoreline would provide Fiorentina with a mountain to climb next week.
In the final moments, she rose highest to head home her third goal in two games, and secure a 3-0 win.
With a hectic month ahead, which includes a Women’s Super League clash against FA Cup finalists Everton on Sunday and potentially the quarter-finals of the Champions League, to have Mewis in such great form after injury is particularly exciting for City.
The midfielder picked up a knock to her ankle in January while away with the U.S. women’s national team, missing City’s huge clashes with Arsenal and Manchester United in February.
But after staying in England during the February international break, missing the SheBelieves Cup - she is now reaping the rewards.
“We had to make sure we used her in the right way,” City head coach Gareth Taylor said this week, after Mewis played just over an hour against Birmingham City on Sunday and scored twice.
It meant she was also a substitute for this crucial European clash, but a very effective one at that.
In her absence, Laura Coombs, Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway had City in full control of possession on Wednesday. It was a sign of City’s depth, something they have shown regularly since Christmas, with injuries and positive Covid-19 tests troubling the team.
The introduction of both Mewis and Lavelle, two-thirds of the midfield trio that started the USWNT’s World Cup final win over the Netherlands in 2019, only highlighted the strength of the squad further.
“When you have Rose [on right] with her pal Sam on the inside and Lucy [Bronze, at right-back], there’s three players there who are going to interact really well with one another. Rose looked sharp,” Taylor said after the game.
“Some of the positive crosses that were coming down that side, we were looking to try get Sam to change position with Georgia [Stanway, in midfield]. It worked quite well with scoring that last goal.
“No matter what personnel we put out, everyone is really contributing. The players are enjoying that challenge, knowing they have to produce, because they’ve got players that can come from the bench and ignite the game as well.”
Lavelle and Mewis certainly did that on Wednesday after things had become a little stale for City following their blistering start, given to them by goals from Lauren Hemp and Ellen White. Credit is certainly due to Fiorentina, in that regard.
In the end, a 3-0 result and the way the game played out put Taylor’s side in a fantastic position not only going into the second leg in Italy next week, but going into Sunday’s game against Everton too.
Janine Beckie was back in the squad, Keira Walsh returned from injury and Abby Dahlkemper was even granted a short rest, substituted just past the hour, after her exploits in the USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup win last week.
Mewis’ return is among the most important, though. While her team showed they can excel without her in February, that does not discredit what she brings to the table.
A commanding presence in midfield who can take a game by the scruff of the neck and provide crucial goals, for her to have returned for almost a month out in such wonderful form is superb.
Fiorentina were missing nine players here, and that number will hit double figures for the second leg after Claudia Neto’s booking in Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat.
It would be interesting to hear just what Antonio Cincotta, Taylor’s opposite number, would give to have options like Mewis and Lavelle on his bench.