Welcome to the latest edition of our digital Women's matchday programme, as Vitality Women's FA Cup action returns to the Academy Stadium for our fourth round visit of Aston Villa.
It's a 12:00 (noon UK) kick-off on Saturday 17 April with holders City beginning our defence of the trophy we've had our hands on for the past two tournaments - and three of the last four seasons!
The game will be broadcast live on CITY+ so don't miss out!
As always, we hear from Gareth Taylor and Steph Houghton, while Birmingham fan Aoife Mannion talks Second City rivals and Laura Coombs is the guest in this week's Q&A.
Meanwhile, we learn more about our Midlands opponents, hear the latest news from the Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club and we meet our Junior Cityzen of the Match...
As always, we'd love for you to get involved and share your support ahead of the game! Did you know you can tweet your messages to the Academy Stadium big screen for the players to see by using #CityBigScreen...?
You can also check out behind-the-scenes content and amazing competitions on our @CitySquareLive social media channels! Don't miss out!
The magic of the FA Cup...
A WORD FROM THE BOSS...
Hello, City fans,
It's fantastic to be back in Vitality Women's FA Cup action with Saturday's visit of Aston Villa, as we return for another big week of games. Welcome to our opponents Villa and their manager Marcus Bignot, their players and staff.
It’s been great to see everyone again this week, following the international break. The players have come back and have been amazing - both in terms of personality and performances in training. Everything has been bright and the squad has been looking fresh.
We're entering 'the business end' of the season now and although people are naturally going to have an eye on the remaining FA Women's Super League games, you can't look to far ahead - because when you do that, you can fall into big trouble.
For us, the most important game is always the next game, which is this weekend's game against Villa. The FA Cup was the first trophy I won as Head Coach - an amazing moment - and of course, we want to defend our trophy and win it again. When we restart next season, we want to be in a position in which we're fighting for every honour.
However, the beauty of the FA Cup is that there will always be shocks. There will always be an underdog and a favourite - no matter what the match-up is - and we know we are heavily-backed favourites for this tie and that Villa are the underdogs... but we need to make sure we don’t underestimate them and that we always treat our opponents the same: with real humility. We always strive to impose ourselves on the opposition and that’s what we’ll aim to do.
As always, we are playing to win. You can't underestimate these teams - for Villa, it is a free hit. They are playing away and will have a gameplan to try and beat us, so in terms of the starting line-up, we will be as strong as we possibly can be - as strong as we need to be. When we have made changes (and we have had to with the sheer volume of games), the level and quality hasn’t dropped. That’s the biggest compliment I can pay to our players.
We are aware Villa have some dangerous and intelligent players themselves. It’s going to be more about how we deal with those threats. They tend to play with a mid-block and hit you on the counter. We need to control the tempo and manage the space really well. They will make it difficult and we understand that.
I find you learn a lot in the first 10 minutes of a game and this is a game we are looking forward to, although it is difficult. If you are not at the races for any moment, you can be dumped out of the competition - and we will be mindful of that.
It's been a week of celebration for the FA WSL. Congratulations to all on the league's ten-year anniversary. It's great to see these milestones. I think we are on the right track but it's important not to rest on our laurels - we have to push on to make this sport readily available to women and young girls, and held to the very best standard. There are many good things we do and there is a real desire to improve a lot of areas in the women's game, and so a lot of hard work still to come. Continuing to improve the standards will help the women's game massively.
Enjoy the game.
What a week we have ahead of us... We kick-off our defence of the FA Cup this weekend by welcoming Aston Villa, and then we have Wednesday's huge, top-of-the table clash against Chelsea in the league.
Everyone talks about season-defining weeks and games, and this one is big. Of course, at the start of the season, this is the position we wanted to be in at this stage domestically and now, with everyone back from international break, it's about giving it one last push for the next four or five weeks to be as successful as we possibly can be.
We know what's on the horizon but we've spoken a lot this week about staying present. Our mentality is always the same: to focus on the next game and if we prepare properly, let the talent do the rest!
Of course, as the holders of the FA Cup, we want our name to stay on the trophy for as long as possible but we can't look any further than the next game and we have to give our opponents the respect they deserve. That's what we've done consistently over the last few months. That's the right thing to do and it's worked well for us - we've been on a roll since Christmas, playing well, scoring a lot and not conceding many.
We just need to replicate that. Everybody is talking about the Chelsea game - and understandably so - but we have a job to do first and it will be tough against Villa. This is a big game for us too.
It's been a hard few weeks for me personally, being on the sidelines, but I'm doing all I can to help the team in whatever way I can. My role has been to have an influence in other ways, checking in on the girls, checking the mood in the camp. When I've been watching in the stands, I've found I'm watching from a different perspective, which will hopefully make me a better player when I come back, fighting for my position.
Until then, I'm striving to be the best supporter and captain I can be - the Club's biggest fan! Admittedly, watching some of the games has almost given me a heart attack - but as long as my team are winning, I'm happy. They know I'm there, even if I'm not on the pitch, as a person to lean on, give advice and be supportive.
This week, we've been celebrating ten years of the FA Women's Super League. That makes me feel old! In all seriousness, what a journey! Of course, I started at Arsenal before joining City and even then, I would never have predicted the success of the league and how competitive it has become over the years.
It's steadily grown and you can see now it's one of the best leagues in the world. I truly believe we can take it as far as we want to. Here's to the next ten years and beyond!
Come on, City!
'ADDED SPICE' FOR BRUMMIE MANNION
One of the world's most prestigious tournaments, the FA Cup always promises excitement, a sprinkle of magic and the sweetest of moments.
For Aoife Mannion, Saturday's fourth round clash against Aston Villa will also carry some spice!
Born and bred in the Second City, she's a Birmingham fan at heart and is therefore readying herself to face her childhood rivals!
However, the 25-year-old, who spent seven years with Brum, actually began her youth career with Aston Villa, progressing through their Centre of Excellence, before joining her beloved Blues.
While she's looking forward to the prospect of the 'Aoife Mannion Derby', the defender admits success with City remains her top priority.
"Of course, there'll be some personal spice for me!" she smiled.
"I guess there’s always spice when you play the team who are the rivals of your childhood team.
"That will be something extra to look forward to but I do have fond memories of playing for Villa.
"There were many people there I enjoyed working with... they're definitely worthy rivals!
"Ultimately, as team, we have a job to do and we'll be really focused and intent on putting in the right performance and getting the win!
"Especially in the FA Cup, anyone can win on their day. That's the magic of the FA Cup. It's a really important competition to this Club. City aren't strangers to winning it - on both the women's and men's sides - and we want to continue to be part of that.
"We will play in a way that respects our opposition but also believes in what we can do.
"We'll be coming into the game with a lot of confidence taken from our recent results and we'll hope to build on that to get to the next round.
"Our name is on the trophy and to lift it again would be our third on the bounce, which would be really special."
Mannion has one City goal to her name - a penalty in the Champions League against Lugano. Should a spot-kick be awarded on Saturday, will she be stepping up to score against her childhood rivals?
She laughed: "I'm no stranger to taking penalties and we have assigned penalty takers... but who knows what can happen and who knows what could come over me?!"
Ever the optimist, even in the face of adversity, Mannion has been hailed as an 'unsung hero' and 'the ultimate team player' by her teammates over the past few months.
Incredibly humble, positive and team-focused, the defender asserts her enthusiasm and words of encouragement have simply been her way of helping her teammates - her way of contributing from the sidelines.
"It’s quite nice to hear that people have said that about me," she continued.
"It’s a team sport. We would all love to be playing every minute of every game but the next best thing is to be in and around it as much as possible and I like to try and be a face people look to when they need a pick-me-up.
"I like to try and build my teammates up as best I can, acknowledging when they do things well, encouraging them if they make a mistake... We have so many quality players that there are so many things to appreciate in their performances.
"That's how I would like to be treated if it were me so I try to do that for them, and it's easy to have that mentality when they're such a great group to be around.
"It's given me quite a lot of joy, being able to do that. It's been something I've been forced to learn through rehab and watching on the sidelines - but I've been pleasantly surprised by how much joy it gives me, even now when I'm back in the mix.
"I hope it's something people continue to say about me."
So, standing as an inspiration to so many in the squad, who would Aoife describe as her 'unsung hero?'
"My unsung hero is Laura Coombs," she declares. "As teammates, we're quite close.
"She's someone who is really supportive and she's been really encouraging to me personally through rehab and coming back.
"Perhaps she's someone who has not had loads of minutes but when she's been called upon, she's been able to help the team win games when needed.
"Around Christmastime especially, she was scoring a lot of goals and I would like to draw attention to her as an unsung hero."
OPPOSITION: Aston Villa
Founded: 1973 (Formerly Solihull FC 1973-1989; Villa Aztecs 1989-1996)
Nickname: The Villans, the Villa
Stadium: Bescot Stadium, Walsall
Manager: Marcus Bignot
Division: FA Women’s Super League (2020-present)
FA Women's Premier League (Northern Division) winners:1992/93, 1994/95, 2002/03, 2010/11
FA Women's Premier League Cup winners: 2012/13
FA Women's Championship winners: 2019/20
2 July 2016, Continental Cup: Aston Villa 0-8 City
(Parris x3, Ross x2, Middag, Corboz, Scott)
13 December 2018, Continental Cup: Aston Villa 0-4 City
(Bonner, Beckie, Park, Hemp)
5 September 2020, FA WSL: Aston Villa 0-2 City (Stanway x2)
17 January 2021, FA WSL: City 7-0 Aston Villa
(Hemp x2, Scott, Stanway, Haigh OG, White, Kelly)
Lauren Hemp, Georgia Stanway and Nikita Parris are City’s top scorers against Villa, having all netted three goals against the Midlands side.
Stanway has scored three goals in her last two games against the Villans.
Q&A WITH → LAURA COOMBS
Incredibly humble, personable and warm-hearted, Laura Coombs is one of the most beloved players amongst the City squad.
While she may not be a regular in the starting XI, our number seven has been thrown into the spotlight this season, showing what she's capable of, following a debut campaign which was hampered by injury - and then cut short due to the term's curtailment.
We caught up with Coombsy, who talks trophy hunts, teammates, and turning points...
Hey, Coombsy! How are you doing? Ahead of a big month, how's everyone feeling?
"Everyone's excited for the business end of the season - everyone wants to make sure the performance and results are right for us to finish the season off in the way we want to.
"Personally, I'm feeling good. I've felt really good in training and I just want to carry that on. Hopefully, I'll keep getting some chances to bring good performances to help the team. I feel really happy about that.
"Of course, we want to do all we can to win the league and we want to give ourselves the chance to make history again with the FA Cup."
I guess with the quality around you and at this stage of the season especially, it's so important to take your chances to shine when they come...
"Definitely. Whenever I get on the pitch, I always think: 'I've got all of these great players around me so it's important I bring my best.'
"We have so much quality in the squad that you know whoever Gaz puts out there is going to be playing to their best."
While you struggled for minutes in your first season at the Club, we've really seen what you can do this year. Was there a specific turning point for you?
"Of course, everyone wants to play as much as possible but I just think that this year, I've felt much more at home and more comfortable.
"Like in training and matches, I've felt like I could really put my mark on things. It started from the first weeks of pre-season and it's carried on from there.
"It took a while for me to get a chance - I think it was around November when I got some good gametime under my belt - but I felt I gave a good account of myself.
"There are still lots of things I want to improve on and hopefully, in the next few games, I'll get more opportunities to keep building."
I imagine some people can feel quite intimidated around players the calibre of those we have... but that's when it's important to believe in yourself and your own ability, isn't it?
"I find it really exciting. I know that I up my game around better players and that's the way you have to look at it.
"You're only going to improve around the level of players we have here and they've helped me massively this season in bringing my game on."
Is there anyone in particular you'd like to credit for that development?
"I wouldn't say it's one or two players in particular - it's across the board.
"There's so much competition now. In training, we have 3v3 in midfield and there are top level players on both sides!
"You have to be at your best every day and I think that's what's really pushed me."
One of the big talking points in recent weeks has been the concept of the 'unsung heroes' within the squad - players who don't necessarily play every game but are contributing in other ways, such as building players up and supporting from the sidelines...
Although I know you're humble, you may be pleased to know Aoife Mannion picked you! How does that feel, and who would you pick?
"Oh, wow! That's lovely. It makes you feel like what you're doing is right!
"Not everyone can play every week but it's important to know you still have a part to play and I'm glad she feels I do that.
"As soon as you mentioned 'unsung heroes', Aoife and Esme Morgan popped into my head!
"In training, Aoife always brings her game - no matter what team she's on - and I want to put a shout-out to Es because she's always bigging everyone up, shouting positivity, especially on matchdays.
"If she's not playing, she's the one you can hear in the stands and if she's playing, she's even louder! It's probably partly down to the City fan in her - she wants the team to do well, as everyone does - but she and Aoife in particular really show it."
What would you say has been the most important thing you've learned this season?
"I feel like I've learned a lot this year technically and tactically, being around these players every day...
"It's probably the team that's brought me on as a player more than any other that I can think of in my career.
"In terms of one specific thing, it's probably: self-belief - going out onto the pitch and knowing I can be on par with these players."
Finally, can we expect any more worldie goals from you this season, especially in these big games?
"I hope so! I'm trying to get at least another one in before the end of the year!"
JUNIOR CITYZEN OF THE MATCH
Hello and congratulations to our Junior Cityzen of the Match: Nevaeh Osbourne.
Nevaeh hails from a City-loving family and loves attending matches at the Academy Stadium.
She has lots of memories of meeting the City players after a match and getting pictures with them!
She's also met our loveable mascots Moonchester and Moonbeam, which she describes as one of her favourite memories!
Interesting facts about Nevaeh include that she's played with City in the Community, captains her school's girls football team and also loves gymnastics!
Her favourite player is Jill Scott.
Enjoy the game, Nevaeh!
If you want to be our next Junior Cityzen of the Match, enter now on the Cityzens platform!
It's great to see the FA Cup back again. We're really looking forward to kicking off our chance to defend the trophy. Hopefully, we can progress through to the latter stages again - into next season - and possibly attend games if safe.
With the recent lockdown restrictions lifting, it has been fantastic to see the playing of football beginning to return to people's lives.
One of our younger members, 10-year-old Grace Wells, was lucky enough to attend Jill Scott's Soccer Skills course over the half-term. Jill has always had great attendances at these events and for young aspiring footballers to be coached by a true legend is amazing!
Another type of football has returned too: Walking Football - and a number of our members, including Jayne and Sharon (pictured below), have returned to coaching sessions at local club Reddish North End FC.
The courses are taken by former City Ladies player Gail Redston and cater for all ages and abilities. Again, it's great to see it return.
Last weekend saw a huge number of City fans take part in this year's socially-distanced Blue Run to raise money for City in the Community. Congratulations to all the City fans who took part.
We had a number of members do so. Pictured below is Helen Sumner with her kit on and medal.
We hope to see more positive news both on and off the pitch continue now through to the end of the season.
Come on, City!