Welcome to the latest edition of our digital matchday programme, as we return to UEFA Women's Champions League action with the Round of 16 first leg visit of Fiorentina.
It's a 16:45 (UK) kick-off on Wednesday 3 March, as we look to gain a strong advantage to take over to Italy next week.
The game will be shown live on CITY+ so make sure to tune in!
As always, we hear from the boss and the skipper, while Sam Mewis reflects on her first experience of European competition and shares her excitement to face Italian opposition!
Meanwhile, Georgia Stanway tells us who she is closest to in the squad (and reveals the mischief they get up to!), while we also catch up with one of her former teammates: Fiorentina midfielder Tessel Middag!
Plus, we take a closer look at our opponents, hear from the Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club and 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 European adventure continues...
A WORD FROM THE BOSS...
Hello, City fans,
We have another exciting game in store with the return of Champions League action with: a Round of 16 first leg tie against Fiorentina. Welcome to Fiorentina and their manager Antonio Cincotta, their players and staff.
Needless to say, the players are really up for the game. We always enjoy periods a lot of games and we have a good opportunity to progress in this competition - we're in a good run form and I've been really impressed with the football we're playing.
We're playing well and scoring a lot of goals but we're always looking to better ourselves and there are still areas we feel we can improve on. There is progress week by week, which is down to growing familiarity - players getting used to the system and understanding me, me understanding them and them understanding each other.
It takes time to develop relationships and we're only seven months into my reign as Head Coach. There were a lot of changes but we all have a shared understanding that we want to grow and improve.
We always show our best performances when we're playing in quick succession and it's good having three games in a week. You move onto the next one quickly, chalking the games off in all competitions and it builds momentum.
It was important to rekindle our form after the international break with a big three points at Birmingham on Sunday. In the first half, we were really impatient in the final third but the goal calmed the nerves a bit, allowing us to try and dominate, and the second half performance was really good.
Now, we have a big game on Wednesday, then another against Everton on Sunday and then we travel to Italy for the second leg. It can be hard to balance the squad, as we approach the latter stages of competitions so it's about managing players in the right way, looking at the bigger picture.
There are a lot of really good teams at this stage of the Champions League and Fiorentina are a difficult team to play against. European competition is a different format and most games are never really done after the first game.
We have to understand that even if we're in a good position, we still have to get the job done. We won't be looking further than the next game - you can't in this competition because you can make the mistake of not performing on the day... and in cup competitions, you don't get second chances.
I believe we are good enough to win this competition but achieving it is the hard part... You’ve seen over the years at Lyon: they’ve been really consistent and dominant. That’s going to be difficult to change.
It has to be a game-by-game situation. It will be a tough game but we’re in good confidence and if we stick to the processes, we can be successful.
Enjoy the game.
The Champions League is back and we're all so excited. It seems like ages since the last round!
Of course, we all love this competition and it's one we've done well in, in the past. We face a really tough challenge in Fiorentina - we've never played them before but we know that whenever we face Italian teams, it's going to be hard: they make life difficult and they like to have the ball.
When you get to this stage of the Champions League, you have to be prepared for anything. We were actually on the training pitch when the draw was made but we were really excited when we found out. We always pay every team respect and for us, it will be a case of taking our league form into Wednesday's game - and Sunday's game against Everton - and then to Italy next week.
We have to keep performing at the best level we possibly can, using the squad as much as we can. At this stage of the season, it's all about wins. We know we can perform better but we're in form and firing, especially in and around the goal.
We were really pleased with Sunday's win over Birmingham. Sometimes, when you come back from international break, it can be hard to pick up the rhythm. As ever, it was good to be back with our national teams and it was nice to have change of environment but once international duty was complete, we couldn't wait to be back at City, ready to continue our run!
To be able to perform the way we did against Birmingham, scoring four goals and keeping another clean sheet, was testament to all of the girls keeping focused to get the job done.
We knew Birmingham would try to make life frustrating for us by putting everybody behind the ball but we were very professional. Scoring the first goal when we did helped us to relax a bit and we found our rhythm in the second half.
Now, we're excited to get another game under our belt. We're looking forward to seeing what Fiorentina will bring. It will be great to see Tessel Middag too. She was a really good friend of mine when she was at City - a lovely girl and really talented footballer. I know she's loving life over in Italy (I'm sure the weather's better) and I'm glad to see her playing, enjoying her football - but hopefully, she won't enjoy it too much against us!
Come on, City!
THE TOWER OF POWER
A summer signing from National Women’s Soccer League outfit North Carolina Courage, the 2020 US Soccer Female Player of the Year has made an excellent start to life in sky blue.
In 19 games in all competitions, she has netted eight goals - five in the league, two in the FA Cup (including the opener in the Final at Wembley) and one on her Champions League debut.
Reflecting on her maiden European appearance, the midfield powerhouse says it was an experience 'every player dreams of' and now, having always wanted to go to Italy, the World Cup winner has the chance to realise another ambition...
"I'm excited! I've never been to Italy," she smiled.
"Getting to travel lately has been difficult for everybody so it's a really cool opportunity to get to see another part of the world.
"We'll definitely be focused on the game. We know it's a tough opponent.
"It's an honour to play in the Champions League - it's something every soccer player dreams of and to get to do it with this group is special.
"I feel really lucky and fortunate to be playing for a team like City in this competition.
“One of the reasons I came to City was to help the team do well in the Champions League."
Marking her first European game with a goal, Mewis proved the matchwinner in Sweden, as City turned the tie on its head after falling behind to an early Göteborg goal.
Rising highest, the Tower of Power headed home the in-form Caroline Weir's pinpoint delivery for her sixth of the campaign, cementing her status as one of City's best attacking threats.
While proud of the team's fightback, Mewis admitted the victory perhaps should have been more convincing, but has been impressed with her side's recent form.
"We know we're capable of more," she conceded.
"This team is always driving to perform at the top level.
"We know we could have put more goals away and be more clinical in the final third.
"We know we have work to do and we'll focus on that for the next game.
"Every game is important and every game is a challenge so we have to be prepared.
"We have to take things one step at a time and it's our job to put in our best performance."
Personable, funny and mischievous, Georgia Stanway is as much-loved off the pitch as she is on it.
However, in our Teammates feature - presented by QNET - our feisty forward admits her banter and impish ways (with sidekick Keira Walsh) can sometimes prove too much for some...
“I’d say I was closest to Keira Walsh in the squad. We’re the trouble-makers – always the ones to cause problems. We try to liven things up a little!
“Janine Beckie is often the one to get the brunt of it. Sometimes, it goes down well and sometimes, we have to say sorry! Caroline Weir gets a lot of it too.
“We like to wind people up and see what happens. It’s all fun and games. We enjoy it. We’re always the ones giving the stick.
“We were always hiding people’s clothes! One time, Nadia Nadim and Claire Emslie came into training quite smart and they had these heeled boots and Keira and Abbie McManus wore them into the gym! All the lads were in as well, laughing at them. It’s just random stuff. It was funny at the time!
“Keira’s got good banter. I bring out the immature side of her so it’s funny. Whatever she puts in the group chat is dead serious; whatever I put in is the complete opposite.
“When she goes home, back to her family, they give me stick for making her more childish!
“My roommate is Ellie Roebuck. I’ve been with her from the start.
“We get on really well. We lived together so it made sense to room together.
“She’s good. On Matchday -1, she likes to chill and go back to the room and get an early night, watching Netflix, whereas I go down for snacks at 9pm, chat and come up to the room to be in bed for 10.
“We have contrasting emotions when comes to Matchday -1 – we both like our routine and we respect it. It’s good to room with her, although she’s messy!
“She’ll give me stick for this but she was always leaving pots everywhere (in the house), forgetting to take pots to wash up.
“I was always tidying up after her. I was the mum of the house!
“In the summer, we always used to do barbecues in the garden. They’re good memories, looking back now. Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to do it again soon.
“It’s amazing to see how well all three of us are getting on in our careers. It’s good because I’ve got Keira to look up to and although Ellie plays a different position, she’s worked so hard to get to where she is.
“It’s massive for me to see that and it pushes me on because I want to stick with them and fulfil my journey with them.
“It’s good that we have each other – that you always have somebody to fall back on.
“We’re all young so we’re in the same boat – we know what disappointment feels like, we know what not getting selected feels like. It’s good to be able to have those conversations. It’s relatable.”
Nickname: Viola, Gigliate
Stadium: Stadio Gino Bozzi
Manager: Antonio Cincotta
League: Serie A
Serie A: 2016/17
Coppa Italia: 2016/17, 2017/18
Supercoppa Italia: 2018
UEFA Women's Champions League history
Fiorentina earned a first qualification to the UWCL in 2017/18, having lifted the Serie A title in 2016/17.
La Viola reached the Round of 16 stage in their maiden European campaign - edged out by eventual runners-up Wolfsburg.
The Italian side would fall at the same stage the following season.
The Serie A outfit faced English opposition in consecutive years in Chelsea and Arsenal, defeated in the Round of 32 in 2019/20.
In this season's competition, Fiorentina eliminated Slavia Prague 3-2 on aggregate in the Round of 32, thanks to Daniele Sabatino's injury-time strike.
Q&A WITH → TESSEL MIDDAG
Netherlands star and former City midfielder Tessel Middag now plies her trade with Fiorentina.
Signed in the mid-season break in June 2016, Middag won two trophies in her first four months at City!
Sadly, her career in sky blue was hampered by a long-term injury but the 28-year-old still holds very fond memories of her time in Manchester...
Hello again, Tessel! It's been a while... How are you? How are you enjoying life in Italy?
"I’m doing well, thank you! I'm really enjoying Italy - it's amazing.
"After four years in England - two at City and two at West Ham - I wanted to try something new: a new league, new opponents, a new language and a new culture and in Fiorentina and Italy, I have found a new challenge and adventure I was looking for.
"I can't complain about the weather in Florence, that's for sure! It's coming towards springtime and it's already t-shirt weather. I'm enjoying training in the sunshine, although I did miss out on the snow in Holland, where everyone was ice-skating - our national sport!"
How's your Italian coming along?
"It's pretty good! It's definitely not fluent but it's going well.
"The listening part in particular is going really well. I'd say 95% of our meetings are in Italian so you just have to soak it all in. That's the best way to learn though - being surrounded by it every day.
"I'm trying to speak Italian in the shops too and they are very patient.
"In mid-January, I did my first post-match interview in Italian for the Fiorentina channels, Viola TV, and now everyone thinks I'm fluent! When it comes to football terms, yes, I'm doing well but I'm still learning other topics!
"I'm getting there. I have at least one Italian lesson a week and you can have as many lessons are you want. Credit to my teacher Federica for getting me this far!"
Tell us about Fiorentina...
"I'm so happy I have the opportunity to play here. Fiorentina was the first team in Italy to professionalise their women's team so they've been the trailblazers in that sense.
"Now, more teams are investing and the league is getting better every year, being able to attract more foreign players too. Most of the top teams have around a 50-50 split of Italian and foreign players now. The league is changing and more players are seeing Italy as a good league and nice opportunity to improve.
"Last year, the season could not be completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but we were in second place after Juventus, who have been the leading team for a couple of years. They won the 'Scudetto' (the award given to the Champions) for three years in a row so they are the team to beat.
"In the league, we are not as high as we want to be at the moment but we started the New Year pretty well with some wins and we are slowly getting up the table.
"We have done very well in the Champions League. There are two spots for the Champions League in the Italian league so luckily for me, Fiorentina finished in second spot last year and I can play in the tournament.
"And now, we are playing against my old team, which is something I had hoped would happen..."
How did you feel when the Round of 16 draw was made?
"I was really happy! I felt like it was going to happen!
"I was at my teammate's house and the first part of the draw had been made and we were like: 'Here we go! This is our part!' The first team that came out was 'Manchester City' and we knew there was a good chance with the groups...
"I thought: 'Surely, it must be Fiorentina!' and there it was! I was very happy. Especially given the situation with COVID-19, you are not able to travel as much so I'm happy that by drawing City, I can return to the city where I enjoyed living for two years. Although I will not be able to explore, it will be good to go back.
"After the draw, I text Steph Houghton and Karen Bardsley and I'm looking forward to seeing the girls and the staff. There have been a lot of changes since I played there but I still know people like Alan Mahon - or 'Mahony'! - and the goalkeeping coach Chris Williams. I knew Gareth Taylor a little too from his time as Academy Coach and he's doing a good job.
"City are in great form at the moment so it's a tough opponent for us to play against!"
Which players in the Fiorentina squad should City be wary of?
"Cláudia Neto is one of our best players - a Portuguese player, who joined in summer, like me. I really enjoy playing with her. She has great vision so she'll be a player to look out for.
"We also have a striker, Daniela Sabatino, who is 35 but scores goals like she's 21 - and some of the City girls will know Louise Quinn from her time at Arsenal."
Looking back on your time at City, you won three trophies with the Club - two in your first four months! Not many players can say that...
"Winning three trophies was quite a highlight!
"I joined in the middle of the season and then pretty soon, I already had two trophies on my CV! I remember my teammates at Ajax were joking that I would need a new cabinet for all of the trophies if it continued!
"There were so many good memories... the football we played, the facilities, playing in front of the fans and also having my parents and sister in the stand... It was an incredible time."
Can your remember your first day at the Club?
"Yes! The first day after I'd signed, I was almost like a little girl in a candy store!
"I was really impressed by everything - the facilities, the quality of the training sessions, the energy in the team, the kindness of the girls...
"Because we shared the training ground with the men, I remember bumping into Vincent Kompany in my first week in Manchester. We were speaking Dutch together and I was thinking: 'This is incredible! Where am I?!'
"From all perspectives, it was really enjoyable."
How about your debut?
"Yes, I remember it! It was against Liverpool, which had a nice personal touch for me because there were two 'Dutchies' playing for them - Mandy van den Berg and Shanice van de Sanden.
"We'd met before the game and they'd said they were so happy I was there. They said they'd hoped I'd come on because I was starting on the bench.
"I came on for the last 30 minutes and I had quite an impact that game. We scored the equaliser - we had been 1-0 down - and we were looking for the winning goal.
"I had a shot on target, which the goalkeeper saved. That was a shame because I would liked to have scored on my debut!"
Can you remember your first goal?
"It was in a Continental Cup game against Aston Villa. We won 8-0!
"It was not the greatest goal... It was a tap-in from a corner. It definitely wouldn't be winning any Puskas Awards!"
You had a really strong connection with the fans. To this day, they still look out for your results and your progress. I'm sure they will be disappointed not to have the chance to welcome you back in person...
"Of course, I remember the Official Supporters Club and their songs!
"Credit to them for the chants. They were amazing. My chant was 'Tess Middag, Middag...' to 'Que Sera, Sera!'
"We're missing out on hearing those songs, which is a shame because I would have liked to have seen the fans. I hope they are doing well."
Who were your best friends in the City squad?
"I'm still in close contact with Daphne Corboz. We founded a little 'book club' with Jane Ross and Jen Beattie.
"I got on well with Pauline Bremer too and Karen Bardsley, and I don't know how many times we went for coffee with Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Izzy Christiansen! After training, we would head to the Northern Quarter and find a coffee shop.
"There were some amazing people in the squad. I remember the first player I spoke to was Toni Duggan. I'd gone to England, thinking: 'I've done English in school, I've watched English movies...I should be okay with the language - but when I spoke to her, I was thinking: 'Is this English?!'
"I wasn't prepared for the accents! I remember going into a bathroom at the airport and asking a member of staff if I could use the tap to fill up my water bottle and she said: 'Y'alright, love!' I didn't know if that was a 'yes' or a 'no!'"
And off the pitch, you had some fun with our Media Team too, taking on different challenges, like the Russian Doll Challenge, the Sound of Music quiz, the ABBA lyrics quiz and even an Escape Room...
"Yes! Thank you to the Media Team for creating some fun activities!
"It was really fun, especially the Escape Room. We escaped with about one minute and a half left so it was a narrow escape!
"I remember Nikita Parris being super-fast in the Russian Doll Challenge... but then, she was super fast at everything!"
Aside from the accent, what was your favourite thing about Manchester?
"Everyone is so down-to-earth. I loved seeing the bee everywhere, and all the graffiti in the Northern Quarter where I lived.
"There was also a little network of Dutch students so that was a nice for me to have a group I could speak to and celebrate holidays with, like King's Day."
Although your time at City was sadly hampered by injury, it's very special that you still have such positive memories and thoughts about the Club...
"It's down to the people that make the Club and the city. To me, it really felt like a close-knit community and the people were so nice.
"Of course, from a football point of view, I would have liked to have shown the fans a bit more of what I could do and prove myself... but not many players get the opportunity to play for such a big club.
"My injury did affect what I could do on the pitch but from a human perspective, I'm happy with the connections I made there. I still have very warm feelings about Manchester as a whole and City as a Club."
What was the most important thing you learned at City - both on and off the pitch?
"I learned a lot. It was such a change. I grew a lot as a person. It was my first foreign experience - the first time I had been away from home. I didn't really have to learn a new language but I did have to learn the accents - Mancunian, Scouse, Scottish, Irish...
"In terms of football, I learned a lot about the tactical side and I was really impressed with the way the team worked together on the pitch. Everyone knew exactly what their role was - Nick Cushing was a tactical mastermind!
"I learned a lot of new concepts and I've taken them with me throughout my career, like having an attacking mindset, using high pressure, always wanting the ball... It's a philosophy that's close to my heart."
And we have to talk about the amazing success of the Netherlands National Team over the last few years!
"It's been incredible to see. We won the European Championship in 2017 and then we got second spot at the World Cup in 2019... And if the Olympics go through this year, who knows what will happen in Tokyo?
"I hope I can play a little part in it but purely as a lover of Dutch football, it's amazing to see the growth.
"Hopefully, it will continue like this, even if our coach is going to England!"
JUNIOR CITYZEN OF THE MATCH
Hello and congratulations to our Junior Cityzen of the Match: Anastasia Hill.
Anastasia started to support City's women's team in March 2019, becoming a Seasoncard holder the following year.
Her favourite player is Ellie Roebuck and she is well-known on Twitter for being Ellie's number one fan, cheering her on at every opportunity!
Anastasia also loves Moonchester and Moonbeam and always runs up to them for a hug or a dance, while she's also known to tease the stewards at matches! With the help of mummy and grandma, she loves joining in with the songs and chants.
She is a member of the MCWFC Official Supporters Club and she hopes to one day play in goal for City. She's very committed to her dream, training with Stalybridge Celtic Juniors and having started goalkeeping lessons after her fourth birthday.
Enjoy the game, Anastasia!
If you want to be our next Junior Cityzen of the Match, enter now on the Cityzens platform!
Throughout the last year, the necessity to stay away from games has been a difficult thing for all City fans to endure but nights like this and away trips to Europe seem even more difficult in many ways...
Ever since we formed as Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club branch in 2015, we have very lucky to follow the team all over Europe - Spain, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria and France... So, to have to miss out on the chance to see the team play in the beautiful city of Florence is upsetting.
But as ever, we will be 100% behind the team and in the second leg, singing and shouting from home and hopefully, cheering them on into the next round.
The MCWFC OSC are extremely proud to support the amazing work being done by the Manchester Foodbanks in our area. The latest initiative they came up with was to create virtual sticker albums for both the City men's and women's squads.
For a donation. you could choose a player and using any artwork of your choice, create a sticker of them for the project. We were proud to represent our current Player of the Year Lauren Hemp and look forward to seeing it in place alongside all the other submissions.
One other note, we would all like to send congratulations to member Anastasia, who has been selected as tonight's Junior Cityzen of the Match... We hope she enjoys her special evening!
Our social media remains open to all as always in these difficult times.