Man City’s strongest ever squad can exorcise Champions League demons

Manchester City Women 2020-21
After crashing out in the round of 16 last year, the Citizens have brought in three World Cup winners and two European champions

Three years ago, Manchester City were within one goal of overcoming the seemingly unbeatable Lyon and securing a place in the Women’s Champions League final.

The final result was 1-0 over two legs, one year on from a 3-2 aggregate defeat to the same opponent at the same stage.

Twice in two years, City pushed the French giants, who have won the last five European titles, extremely close in the semi-finals.

What is particularly remarkable is that those two City teams, on paper, were nowhere near as good as the team they have right now.

As they prepare to resume their UWCL campaign on Wednesday against Fiorentina, they do so with what is their strongest ever squad.

After some recent disappointments in Europe, crashing out in the last 16 last year and the round of 32 the season before, the Citizens are in a wonderful position to put things right.

“We didn't perform well enough in the home leg,” captain Steph Houghton said in the summer, reflecting on City's last-16 exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the 2019-20 season. 

“We've strengthened our squad this season. We're excited about it and we believe we've got the quality and depth, but it's up to us to go and prove it.

“[A Champions League final] is one we want to be part of. That's one final you definitely want to be fighting for."

Manchester City UWCL results PS 1:1

Three World Cup winners (Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Abby Dahlkemper), two Champions League winners (Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood) and one sensational young winger (Chloe Kelly) have joined the club over the last 10 months.

Such statement signings mean City’s strength in depth is phenomenal, so much so that the starting XI for the first leg of their last 16 clash on Wednesday will be almost unrecognisable compared to last season’s.

With injuries also factored in, it’s likely that only five starters will remain from the team that drew at home to Atletico in late-2019.

Even the look of the bench is telling. From the seven substitutes that featured at this stage of the last campaign, two have been sent out on loan for game time elsewhere, while two have left the club altogether.

“We've got not only the talent but also the squad depth this year to be able to compete in all the competitions – and that includes the Champions League,” Bronze, the City defender who won three European titles with Lyon, told Goal in December.

“I think, on our day, we've got a team that we could put out and we could beat all these top teams, so there's no reason why we can't have the aspirations of trying to get to a Champions League final and trying to lift the trophy.”

Mass change might appear unsettling on paper, but the spine of the team remains, in goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, captain Houghton and the midfield duo of Keira Walsh and Caroline Weir.

A strong core of the side that has fallen surprisingly short over the last two years is also still at the club and their desire to avenge those disappointments will be as important as the new arrivals.

Speaking back in August, when the 2019-20 Women’s Champions League had resumed, City forward Georgia Stanway’s reaction to watching the games at home was revealing.

Manchester City Women 2020-21

“I’m jealous,” she said. “It just makes you so hungry to want to be there. I definitely want to be there one day. I want to be in a Champions League final. I want to be lifting a trophy. That’s in my dreams and I’d love to make it a reality.”

The progression City have enjoyed this season means they are one of the strongest teams left in this competition.

After a slow start to the campaign, they have won eight straight games in the Women’s Super League and are unbeaten in 11.

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Their disposal of Goteborg in the last round of the Champions League was also particularly impressive, given the Swedish champions were one of the toughest draws they could’ve got.

Form and hunger have rarely been lacking at City. What's different this year is the strength in depth and the number of individuals who know what it takes to be a world or European champion.

Lyon will remain the front-runner to claim the crown once again, but this could well be City's best chance of Champions League revenge yet.