Manchester City captain Steph Houghton will miss the first leg of the club’s UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
The centre-back has an Achilles problem that has forced her to miss City’s last two games – a win over Bristol City in the Women’s Super League and a victory in the second leg of their UWCL last 16 tie with Fiorentina.
Head coach Gareth Taylor admitted it is difficult to say when the England international will return.
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What has been said?
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Taylor explained that Houghton’s injury was one she picked up in the first leg of City’s Champions League last 16 tie. The defender was not subbed off in that game and played 90 minutes four days later against Everton, but is now suffering with the problem.
“I think it's one that we anticipated would have settled down by now,” Taylor said. “It's probably not settled down as quickly as we'd like, or certainly as Steph would like. She's obviously really disappointed to not be here with the team.
“It's really difficult to answer really when she'd be back. We're hoping it's not too far away, but again, we'll always look at what's the right thing for the player.
“We've had this before, earlier in the season, with many of our players. We're trying to see the bigger picture. As much as these games are big, we're trying to see the bigger picture and make sure that they're back for us for the remaining run in.”
Who will play in Houghton’s absence?
It is likely that U.S. women's national team star Abby Dahlkemper will be partnered with England's Alex Greenwood in the centre of defence. That is the pairing that kept a clean sheet against Bristol in City’s last game and that duo have been Houghton’s most frequent partners in the team this season.
Greenwood has played left-back a lot in her career but has played more centrally this season under Taylor. That means the spot on the left may be occupied by Esme Morgan, one of City’s young talents, or Demi Stokes, although the England international is only just back from her own injury.
Speaking about Houghton’s absence on Tuesday, and possibly rising to fulfil that leadership void as a World Cup winner, Dahlkemper said: “Steph is such a quality player and she brings so much this side, on and off the field. She's our captain and such a top class centre-back.
“I think I just need to focus on the things that I can do well and the things that I can do to help the team. We're definitely missing her in her absence, but I'm just going to try and do my best to help to try and lead the defence.
“The centre-back position, you have to lead and talk and communicate and dictate everyone around you, because you can see the whole field. I think it's just important to focus on my game and try and do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Taylor added: “Of course, we're fortunate in the respect that we have good cover. If you look at our last three or four games in all competitions, we've been struggling for fullbacks and we've had people who've gone in and done fantastic jobs, the likes of Esme, and Georgia Stanway have done great.
“We're fortunate now we've got Lucy [Bronze] back, we've got Demi back. Obviously, we would love to have the skipper there, our captain, but we got by without her previously against Fiorentina.”