FA Cup win got Man City’s title race back on track - Conti Cup triumph could do even more

Manchester City Women composite
Winning silverware in November was a springboard for Gareth Taylor's side and, on Wednesday, they face Chelsea as they eye up another mid-season cup

The last time Manchester City played Chelsea, they were in a completely different place to where they are now.

After a stuttering start to life under new head coach Gareth Taylor, with points dropped at home to Brighton, defeat to the Blues in south London would be followed with a 1-1 draw against Reading. Suddenly, they were seven points off the pace in the Women’s Super League.

However, ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Chelsea, in the quarter-finals of the Continental Cup, things have changed dramatically.

Since Emma Hayes’ side beat them 3-1 in October, City have lifted the Women’s FA Cup, their second in succession, and haven’t lost a game in 90 minutes. They’ve won all of their last five games, which includes two Champions League fixtures and a crunch clash with Arsenal.

There had been questions raised about City in those first two months of the season, amplified due to the summer recruitment that brought in two World Cup winners, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, two Champions League winners, Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood, and one of England’s most exciting young talents, Chloe Kelly.

Was the team struggling to gel? Was it Taylor’s ideas that needed time? Whatever it was, like their previously struggling and now thriving male counterparts, suddenly the team on show at this stage of the season is a lot more like the City we have become accustomed to.

It’s no coincidence that everything changed after that cup win in November. Taylor suggested it could be a “springboard” at the time and he wasn’t wrong.

Manchester City FA Cup 2020

“It was a really important one,” striker Ellen White told Goal this week, reflecting on that triumph.

“Winning silverware is always a boost for the winning mentality, to give momentum, but it came at a really great time for us.

“It propelled us. It put us in a good place as we were a new squad coming together with a new manager.”

Sunday’s win over Aston Villa was a great chance to measure that progress. On the opening weekend of the season, City were 2-0 winners against the newly-promoted side, but the two goals were gifted to them by their opposition, who had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.

Last weekend’s rematch, though, was as convincing as wins come. Despite missing a whole host of players – and their manager – due to Covid-19 protocols, City were 6-0 up at half time and 7-0 winners.

“There's an upturn in their performances and their results. They're a team that have recovered and bounced back from their early setbacks,” Chelsea boss Hayes noted, following her side’s own win over then-league leaders Manchester United on Sunday.

The Blues are the Conti Cup holdersand the reigning WSL champions. Looking almost unstoppable at the moment, their squad is stacked in all areas. As a result, they will be a lot of people’s favourites on Wednesday night.

Sam Kerr Ji So-yun Chelsea Women 2020

However, Chelsea have never won at the City of Football Academy, with their nine visits to date resulting in five defeats and four draws. “That’s how tricky it is at that place,” Hayes added.

If City can keep up that impressive record, they could have the chance to boost their season with another piece of domestic silverware, the Conti Cup, at the end of February.

Nick Cushing, Taylor’s predecessor, was the master of cup competitions. He won six trophies in six years with City, only one of those being a league title.

Taylor worked as Cushing’s boss before he became the women’s head coach back in 2014. Alan Mahon was Cushing’s assistant during his tenure and is now Taylor’s. Moreover, the majority of this squad was constructed by Cushing, with four players still at the club winning all six of those titles with him and an even greater number having lifted most of them.

That priceless know-how when it comes to the cup competitions didn’t just leave when Cushing did. This season has already proven that.

If the FA Cup triumph was a springboard to get their season back on track, a Conti Cup victory in the second half of the campaign could do even greater wonders as they eye up a first WSL title since 2016.

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It would be doing a disservice to the teams left in the competition to assume the winner on Wednesday would win the whole thing.

But in a pool that contains two teams in the lower echelons of the WSL table, West Ham and Bristol City, and two Championship clubs, leaders Leicester and second-placed Durham, the latter to face the Hammers in the last quarter-final on Thursday, they would certainly be the overwhelming favourites.

And with City's history in cup competitions, you wouldn't bet against them lifting another so soon.