Welcome to the latest edition of our digital Women's matchday programme, as we return to the Academy Stadium for FA Women's Super League action with the visit of Chelsea.
Games don't come much bigger, as we welcome the league leaders in a potential title-deciding clash! It's a 18:00 (UK) kick-off on Wednesday 21 April and you will not want to miss it!
As ever, we hear from Gareth Taylor and Steph Houghton, while the skipper also recollects her all-time favourite City game...
Meanwhile, we look back on five memorable wins over the Londoners, hear from Janine Beckie on the added motivation of this encounter (if any were needed!) - and catch up with the Tower of Power: Sam Mewis.
Plus, we learn more about our opponents, hear the latest news from the Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club and meet our Cityzen of the Match and Barclays Mascot...
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!
Fight 'til the end!
A WORD FROM THE BOSS...
Hello, City fans,
What a game we have in store... Needless to say, it's a big one, and it's going to be a great advert for the women's game: two big clubs battling it out at the top of the table, as the season nears its conclusion. We are excited and very much looking forward to it. Welcome to our opponents Chelsea and their manager Emma Hayes, their players and staff.
There's no shying away from the importance of this game but these moments are the reasons why you coach, why you want to be a manager. These are moments we should cherish. I don't think there is ever a right or wrong time to play a title rival, particularly with the squad they have. They have good numbers but so do we, and we know what we have to do.
It definitely has the feel of a title decider but there is still more football to be played after this game, and I'm sure that's what both coaches will be saying: 'There is still a job to do.' Whatever the result, I am proud of the team for their efforts in getting us to this point. We have shown amazing concentration and desire to put us in a position where it's in our hands. Well done to everyone.
I think we have developed since the first league game against Chelsea – we have experience, and more games under our belt. If you look across both squads, there is experience of these types of games. It will help those players – having been there previously: what it looks like and how it can affect them during the game.
When you look back to pre-season and the Community Shield game, they were potentially a couple of transfers ahead of us – we were waiting on players and when they came, we had to get them acclimatised, and that takes time. From when we played at Kingsmeadow to now, we are a different team. We still need to improve but the signs have been good. We have put ourselves in a fantastic position and we want to finish it off.
We go into this game on the back of Saturday's excellent FA Cup win, which was an exceptional team performance and one we can really build some confidence from. I felt we dominated and controlled the game really well in a very professional manner, and the application and rhythm was great.
It's hard to achieve perfection but I really liked that although we were in the ascendency, we still looked hungry – even towards the end – and that the level of performance didn't alter after the substitutions. It was a really strong team performance and everyone is really contributing. They all want to play and improve, and everyone is putting in a good effort, pushing each other to maintain high standards.
Of course, there has been big news in football this week but everyone has remained fully focused on the game. As a coach, t's my job to ensure that's the case. With three games left of the season, we can't afford to take our eye off the ball. We trust the Club to make the right decisions – they've been amazing in helping the women's game – and we'll stay focused on the remaining games.
We know our objective and how to achieve it. We have a huge opportunity; now, it's up to us to take it.
Enjoy the game.
Here we go! It's a big one, and we’re all so excited. Our team loves a challenge and the squad are raring to go and fight for what would be a crucial three points in the title race, and a huge step towards the trophy.
We love battling against the best players, trying to be better – tactically and technically. It’s always a fascinating, tight and tense contest and I’m expecting more of that… We wanted to be in this position at this stage of the season: with the title race in our hands, and we’ve done so well to get to this point over the last few months.
Previously, when we’ve played Chelsea this season, we feel we haven’t done ourselves justice, stamping our authority on the game. We know we’ll have to be at the top of our game but we also know we have the talent and physicality to compete with the best teams in Europe.
We have to give them respect – they also have quality all over the pitch and the depth of their squad is exceptionally strong. The spine of the team have been there for a long time, while they’ve also brought in some of the best players in the world, and they have a very good manager in Emma Hayes. Their record speaks for itself and they’re in the semi-finals of the Champions League – and deservedly so.
It’s not going to be easy but it’s up to us to do what we can to win the game, and we’re confident that as a team, we can produce what would be one of our best performances of the season. We go into the game in good form and on the back of a fantastic win on Saturday, which has helped to build a bit of momentum going into it.
We've learned a lot from the fixtures against Chelsea this season – most importantly: to believe in ourselves a bit more. In the first games, things were quite new in terms of learning how Gaz wanted us to play and it takes time for new players to settle in – Sam, Rose, Lucy, Alex and Chloe were still getting into a rhythm. Now, we’re in a much better position and everybody knows their roles. We’re comfortable and confident.
In terms of mentality, we just have to go for it! We believe in everything we’ve done and worked hard for, and we have to leave everything out there on the pitch. As long as we’ve done that – controlling what we can control – and have given our all, we’ll have no regrets.
There is some extra motivation too, given how last season ended. Of course, nobody could have predicted a national lockdown and the end of the league season. As it was decided on a points-per-game basis, losing out so narrowly was hard to take, but we respected the decision and we've learned from it.
We know we’ve gone far too long without winning the league title and it’s been one of our targets from the start. We have to take control of that ourselves but it’s important to remember that even if we win on Wednesday, there is still work to do.
It’s not the case that we win the league if we beat Chelsea – we’ll still have two big games against Birmingham and West Ham, who will both be battling for their lives. Until then, we’re looking no further than this game and hopefully, we’ll secure the result we want.
Come on, City!
CLASH OF THE TITANS:
FIVE CLASSIC WINS
Ahead of this mouth-watering potential FA WSL title decider, we look back on five of our most memorable victories over Chelsea…
CITY 1-0 CHELSEA, 2014
The game Jill Scott describes as her all-time favourite… a Continental Cup semi-final victory in our maiden campaign as a professional Club.
Underdogs City hosted the Londoners in our first major cup semi-final, entertaining Emma Hayes’ much-fancied outfit at Hyde’s Ewen Fields.
Having struggled to negotiate the top flight in the season’s early stages, Nick Cushing’s side had kick-started our campaign in the League Cup, registering our first win in the competition at the Etihad Stadium with a last-gasp 1-0 triumph over Everton, which sparked a much-improved run of form.
Impressively, the league newcomers finished top of the Group 2 standings with four wins from five to advance to the knock-out rounds.
A tricky assignment against double-chasing Chelsea loomed but City stood up to the challenge, edging a close contest by a solitary goal, as Toni Duggan capitalised on a defensive error to send Cushing’s side through to our first ever Cup Final.
Giants Arsenal awaited but once again, the spirited underdogs triumphed to lift our first piece of major silverware.
CITY 2-1 CHELSEA, 2014
After emerging victorious in that Conti Cup semi-final, City locked horns with Chelsea again a matter of weeks later in the FA Women’s Super League season finale.
Cushing’s side were set to complete a more than respectable first season in the WSL with a fifth-place finish and with a place in our maiden cup final secured – and the home side were handed the chance to play a decisive role in how the title race panned out.
A win or draw for Chelsea would secure them the league crown, with Birmingham and Liverpool set to pounce on any slip-up – and City were in no mood to tolerate any opposition celebrations on our home turf.
England star Jill Scott put the cat amongst the pigeons, opening the scoring with a well-struck long-range effort, before Duggan doubled the lead with a goal of the highest quality, chesting Scott’s delivery down before volleying superbly past substitute goalkeeper Claire Farrow. The goal would see the striker become the first woman to win the Club’s Nissan Goal of the Season award the following summer!
Gilly Flaherty pulled a goal back for the visitors late on but City held firm to preserve the win with teenage goalkeeper Alex Brooks (deputising for the injured Karen Bardsley) producing an excellent display.
CHELSEA 0-2 CITY, 2016
Missing out on the 2015 league title two points shy of Chelsea had fuelled City's hunger for the 2016 campaign - and the first pair's first league meeting of the season issued a real statement of intent.
Staines had not proven a happy hunting ground for Cushing's side with three agonisingly late defeats in our four visits.
However, the final whistle on this day in May 2016 would instead spark scenes of celebration for those in sky blue, as we claimed a crucial 2-0 win, signalling our desire to dethrone the home side.
The opener arrived on the brink of half-time via the most unlikely source, as left-back Demi Stokes collected Kosovare Asllani's through-ball and drilled expertly into the bottom corner.
Three minutes after the break, the lead was extended as Jennifer Beattie rose highest to head home, courtesy of a deflection.
Despite a late flurry of Chelsea pressure, City held on for a priceless win, maintaining our 100% start to the league season...
CITY 2-0 CHELSEA, 2016
Our first title triumph...
After clinching a crucial 1-0 victory at Arsenal, City welcomed reigning Champions Chelsea to the Academy Stadium in the knowledge a win or draw would secure our very first WSL title.
With plenty at stake and a firm rivalry emerging, a record crowd turned out to cheer the home side on, on a day in which City were simply a class above their counterparts.
Scott broke the deadlock in the first half with a deflected header from Duggan’s corner, and the provider turned goalscorer in the second half, as Duggan despatched a penalty after Lucy Bronze had been hacked down by Flaherty.
The spot-kick marked Duggan’s ninth goal in nine games against Hayes’ side but more importantly, sealed the three points needed to lift the WSL trophy for the first time.
A 1-1 draw against Birmingham the following week would complete an unbeaten league campaign, capping a superb season in which City also lifted the Conti Cup for the second time with a 1-0 extra-time victory over the Solihull side.
CHELSEA 0-2 CITY, 2019
Having met seven times in cup competition (and six times in semi-finals), City and Chelsea were familiar foe on the big stage and once again, they were pitted against each other in the last four stage of the 2018/19 Continental Cup.
A superb second half display booked our place in the Final, as Nikita Parris bagged a brace at Kingsmeadow to inspire a 2-0 win.
Bardsley had produced a pivotally impenetrable performance in the opening 45 and aided by Cushing's half-time tactical switch, City came out fighting in the second half, netting the opener inside five minutes.
Upended by Deanna Cooper, all-time FA WSL top scorer Parris stepped up to convert confidently from the penalty spot, before doubling her personal tally with a cool finish one-on-one to seal the tie.
The triumph set up our third (and second successive) Conti Cup Final clash with Arsenal, and ensured both our men's and women's teams would compete in League Cup Finals on the same weekend.
Joyfully, both would go on to lift the trophies with penalty shoot-out wins!
HOUGHTON'S FAVOURITE GAME
Captain Steph Houghton stands proudly as the Club's leading appearance-maker since we turned professional in 2014 - with an outstanding 200 games to her name.
Of that sensational double Century, which clash stands out as her all-time favourite...? An historic and unforgettable encounter against our title challengers...
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Positive, selfless and versatile, Janine Beckie is one of the most beloved and respected members of the City squad.
Serving the team in whatever way she can - whether that's by filling in at right-back, providing treats for long coach journeys or picking a teammate up when they're down - the Canada star will be there to rely upon.
While she does not always receive recognition for her contributions, the 26-year-old has shone over the last few weeks and has played an influential role in her side's recent successes, bagging three goals in her last three games.
In fine form, Beckie has staked her claim for a key minutes, as the season reaches its exciting finale. In the build-up to Wednesday's potential title decider against Chelsea, she admits there's a little extra spice, following last season's early curtailment...
“We’ve learned our lessons from last season. The league made the decision to give the trophy to Chelsea based on the stats and you have to give credit to them for taking care of business while they could.
“It left a bitter taste for us but it put more emphasis on the importance of winning the games right in front of you – dropping points really hinders the ability and confidence to be at the top.
“Belief comes really easily in this team. It’s definitely been clear Gaz has wanted to drive belief and he’s been successful with that thusfar.
“We all look around each other and believe in each other’s ability to go on the pitch and perform.
“We have a great camaraderie off-field as well as on it. Everyone gets along – there are no issues – and that’s testament to Gaz and Gavin Makel of the team they’ve put together.
“It’s a team of genuinely good people and when you get along so well off the pitch, it’s so much easier to get the outcomes you want on it.
“People can be sceptical when players have played under certain managers or certain systems for a long period of time – about how they can react or adapt.
“We were successful under Nick Cushing and it is normal to have questions when a new manager comes in and really changes things. Gaz has changed a lot but not in a bad way.
"It’s been great, but with change comes a period of adjustment. We didn’t have the start we wanted but we’ve developed as the season has gone on.
"The more results we’ve had – and the more goals we’ve scored and clean sheets we’ve tallied – the more our belief has continued to rise.
“We hit a level and we’ve tried to stick to that, keeping ourselves fresh so we’re ready when needed.
“Now, we’re looking to push for the league and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can control our own destiny by winning the rest of our games – and we know we’re capable of that.
“If everything worked out and the points fell in our favour, it would be an amazing achievement.”
Nickname: The Blues
Stadium: Kingsmeadow, Kingston-upon-Thames
Manager: Emma Hayes
Division: FA Women’s Super League (2011-present)
FA Women's Super League: 2015, 2017/18, 2019/20
FA WSL Spring Series: 2017
Premier League Southern Division: 2004/05
Women's FA Cup: 2014/15, 2017/18
FA Women's League Cup: 2019/20, 2020/21
Women's FA Community Shield: 2020
Surrey County Cup: 2003, 2004, 2006,2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
27 April 2014, FA Cup: City 1-3 Chelsea (Duggan)
20 July 2014, FA WSL: Chelsea 2-1 City (Flint)
7 September 2014, Continental Cup: City 1-0 Chelsea (Duggan)
12 October 2014, FA WSL: City 2-1 Chelsea (Scott, Duggan)
3 May 2015, FA Cup: Chelsea 1-0 City
10 May 2015, FA WSL: City 1-1 Chelsea (Duggan)
26 July 2015, FA WSL: Chelsea 1-2 City (Duggan, Rafferty OG)
17 April 2016, FA Cup: Chelsea 2-1 City (Ross)
19 May 2016, FA WSL: Chelsea 0-2 City (Stokes, Beattie)
25 September 2016, FA WSL: City 2-0 Chelsea (Scott, Duggan)
25 May 2017, Spring Series: City 1-0 Chelsea (Duggan)
14 January 2018, Continental Cup: Chelsea 0-1 City (Nadim)
1 February 2018, FA WSL: Chelsea 0-0 City
24 February 2018, FA WSL: City 2-2 Chelsea (Parris, Stanway)
15 April 2018, FA Cup: Chelsea 2-0 City
9 September 2018, FA WSL: Chelsea 0-0 City
6 February 2019, Continental Cup: Chelsea 0-2 City (Parris x2)
10 February 2019, FA WSL: City 2-2 Chelsea (Wullaert, Stanway)
14 April 2019, FA Cup: City 1-0 Chelsea (Eriksson OG)
8 December 2019, FA WSL: Chelsea 2-1 City (Weir)
23 February 2019, FA WSL: City 3-3 Chelsea (White, Stanway, Hemp)
29 August 2020, Community Shield: Chelsea 2-0 City
11 October 2020, FA WSL: Chelsea 3-1 City (Kelly)
20 January 2021, Continental Cup: City 2-4 Chelsea (Kelly, Hemp)
Toni Duggan is City’s top scorer against Chelsea with seven goals.
Ellen White's senior career started at Chelsea, as the striker joined the London side as a 16-year-old in 2005.
She finished as the Club's top scorer for three consecutive seasons.
Laura Coombs had been one of Chelsea's longest-serving players when she departed for Liverpool in 2017.
Having joined in 2011, the midfielder played a key role in the Blues' 2015 success, featuring in 27 of the 28 games as Emma Hayes'side completed a league and FA Cup double.
Gemma Bonner also spent a year with Chelsea in 2011 and played alongside Coombs in the 2012 FA Cup Final, while Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan joined City from Chelsea in December 2015.
Q&A WITH → SAM MEWIS
World Cup winner Sam Mewis has taken to the FA Women's Super League like a duck to water!
In her debut campaign in sky blue, the United States star has scored 14 goals in 28 appearances and helped her new Club to a second successive Women's FA Cup triumph, bagging a goal in the Final at Wembley, after netting the winner in the semi-finals.
We caught up with the 'Tower of Power' to reflect on her City career to date...
Sam, you're eight months into your City career... Now that you're fully settled in, has the move been everything you hoped for?
"Definitely. Coming here, I really wanted to play at a high level, get some good games in and really experience football from another culture's perspective - and I definitely think I've gotten to do that.
"On top of that (and above what I was expecting and hoping for), I've made such great friends. Socially, it's just been so much fun. I really love the girls. I have like such a blast with them - just getting to hang out and train together every day.
"It's been everything I hoped and more, for sure."
You've really hit the ground running. Did you expect that to happen so quickly?
"I'm not really sure what I expected! Obviously, I was prepared for a big challenge when I got here - I knew there were so many great players on the team so I think that getting playing time and making an impact was definitely something that I wanted to prioritise.
"Mostly, it's a testament to my teammates and the coaching staff and how much everybody has embraced having me. I've learned so much from everybody and it's been such a joy to just be on the field and play with everybody.
"Any success I've had is down to that."
Is there anything about the Club or the English game that perhaps surprised you?
"Again, I guess I didn't exactly know what to expect. I hadn't had much experience of joining new teams in general and I didn't know too many people personally, although I'd played against England before and I knew of some of the girls.
"Everybody was genuinely so welcoming and although I wasn't surprised to like everybody so much, it really did feel like home really quickly.
"I've just really grown such strong relationships with everybody and I'm really grateful for that."
What has been your favorite moment of your City career so far?
"Winning the FA Cup is definitely up there as one of my favorite moments. It was early on in my City career and to win something so soon and be a part of something I had never won before was really an incredible feeling.
"I also think that my Champions League debut was exciting for me. I had always wanted to play in the Champions League and it was really exciting to get to do that.
"I got to share the debut with some of the other girls as well - Chloe Kelly and Esme Morgan, which was nice."
What has been the most important thing you've learned - on or off the pitch - whilst being at City?
"It's been really good for me to have so many learning moments. I've really come to understand that I've played the game a certain style almost my whole life, but that there are so many layers and so many elements to the game and the way that it can be played.
"Coming here has reminded me that there's always more to learn; there's always layers that I can add to my game - a new technique I can learn, something tactical that I've never been told...
"It's been so eye-opening to experience this and to get to learn from so many people, who have learned the game a little bit differently than me. It's been fun and a really rewarding experience."
A lot of your teammates have praised you as a natural leader. What qualities do you think you bring to this squad and what qualities do you think a good leader needs to have?
"I think that leadership is really at this team's core - it's about putting the team first and doing whatever is necessary to help the team succeed.
"Different leaders can express that in different ways. There are definitely vocal leaders on the field, who give direction, there are players who lead by example and just do the work and put their head down every day, and there are organisational leaders, who are making sure everything's firing on all cylinders all the time.
"It means a lot to me to hear that that some players have said that they feel I'm a natural leader. I think that depending on what the team needs, it brings it out in you. There have been days where I've had to be a vocal leader and days where I've had to organise and things like that.
"I just really feel like I'm learning from the players around me and really just kind of adapting to whatever the team needs. The girls really have a good direction of how we want this team to operate and the staff too, obviously.
"Leadership really is just a lot of people working together to make the team function as best it can."
Who else in the squad would you say brings those leadership qualities?
"Obviously, Steph Houghton. She has so much experience being captain and she really knows what that role entails and does that job really well.
"I think that Lucy Bronze is a leader because we all admire her and look to her when things get tough to see how she reacts and see what she wants us to do.
"Keira Walsh is a leader in her own way too. Her standard is so high for the game that I think we all want Keira's blessing a little bit. We all really want to play with her and make her happy, and I just think that the way she carries herself and her expectations for the team are a focal point."
There's been a lot of talk recently about 'unsung heroes' in the squad - players who go under the radar. Which players would you say fit into that category?
"Personally, I try not to look at the media so I guess I don't really know who is flying under the radar as such but players that I would say that have a huge impact are Alex Greenwood and Georgia Stanway.
"I think Alex's services on set-pieces have been incredible. She's been top defensively and her distribution from the back has been so good. I think she's really made a huge impact coming in to the team.
"As for Georgia, you always know what you're going to get. She is a really tenacious defender - the number of tackles she goes into...! Sometimes, you're watching and you're just like: 'Oh, there she goes again - another tackle!'
"I just think her mindset and her approach to the game, her willingness to put her body on the line, her great finesse to connect passes, her finishing... I would definitely put her in the 'unsung hero' category."
As for Wednesday's game, they don't come much bigger! You've played on the biggest stages and in some of the most prestigious competitions and you've already had a taste of facing Chelsea this season. What have we learned about them in those games and what would you say makes a Championship-winning team?
"I definitely think we have a lot of the qualities of the Championship teams that I've played on in the past. In my experience, there's been a team chemistry and a togetherness that has been prevalent in all of my Championship teams, but I think mentality and a willingness to put aside any personal needs or any personal ego - you're able to sacrifice that part of yourself for what's best for the team - is also really important.
"It's been so fun for me to be here. There are so many competitions going on and that has made for an interesting dynamic with exactly what it is that we're playing for that day.
"Chelsea are a great team. Obviously, it's a big game and a big challenge, and one we're looking forward to. We're excited to test ourselves against one of the top teams.
"Knowing that we still have the league and the FA Cup to play for is so exciting. "
CITYZEN OF THE MATCH
Hello and congratulations to our Cityzen of the Match: Declan McEntee.
Declan, from Burnage, is a big Manchester City fan and has been a Seasonticket holder for a number of years.
He has been in and out of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital since he was born and has raised thousands of pounds for the charity over the years, including making headlines in 2015 with his #ScarSelfie campaign to show others that having scars is completely normal.
After setting up the charity campaign ‘Declan’s Decathlon’, Manchester City opened the Etihad Stadium to help Declan complete one of his first events, which saw him finish 10 laps of the pitch, alongside his friends and family.
Declan has also been helping the Club with a very special community project to be announced soon!
His favourite players are Steph Houghton and Kevin De Bruyne.
Declan will also be the virtual escort for the game, greeting the players from a virtual link as they come out for their warm-up!
Enjoy the game, Declan!
If you want to be our next Cityzen of the Match, enter now on the Cityzens platform!
Welcome also to our Barclays Mascot: Poppy Burgess.
Poppy loves football, gymnastics and her rabbit!
Her favourite City players are Ellen White and Kevin De Bruyne.
Have a great day, Poppy!
It's that time of year when the Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club announce our Player of the Season.
We give our members one vote each and let them vote for any player they wish to - there's no shortlist! We have proudly run the award from our first year and the Roll of Honour reads well with a list of fantastic players who were all so deserving of the award:
• 2015 - Izzy Christiansen
• 2016 - Lucy Bronze
• 2017/18 - Keira Walsh
• 2018/19 - Nikita Parris
• 2019/20 - Lauren Hemp
We present the trophy to the winner, as well as an engraved silver salver for the player to keep. (Of course, with the pandemic, we have obviously been unable to present Lauren with her trophy yet... but we will!)
The voting for MCWFC OSC members closes on Sunday 25 April at 22:00 (UK time) so please make sure you get yours in, as every single vote counts.
You can vote by replying to the email sent or via a DM on Twitter. The team's fantastic form is sure to see this season's vote the closest one yet.
On the subject of presentations, Chloe Kelly's hat-trick on Saturday was surprisingly City's first of the season! It means of course, at some point, we can continue our tradition of presenting an OSC-signed ball to mark the achievement.
We are all eagerly looking forward to Wednesday's game. We have a great healthy rivalry with Chelsea and their fans, so it is a shame the Academy Stadium will not be rocking to our songs tonight... but as always, it is such a pivotal game.
Come on, City!