2020 in review
By Caroline Oatway
A year of change, challenge and triumph
"We’re wanting to be progressive as a Club – be successful, be world-leading – and we have been the flagbearers for a few years, pushing boundaries."
- Gareth Taylor
Double cup success in 2019 had sparked cause for optimism, as City lifted a third Continental Cup and second FA Cup to clinch our fifth and sixth pieces of silverware in a sensational six-years.
However, the opening week of 2020 signalled the end of an era, as manager Nick Cushing announced he would depart for pastures new at the start of February to take up the post of assistant manager at New York City FC.
It was a heart-wrenching decision for the boss but ultimately, the chance to embark on a new challenge in America with his young family was an opportunity no-one could deny him.
Cushing described the emotions of his departure as those equivalent to 'splitting up with a girlfriend', as he called time on six unforgettable, trophy-laden years at the helm.
“Making the decision to leave MCWFC has been incredibly difficult given the fantastic players and staff that we have here and the incredible success that we have achieved together - it isn’t one that I have taken lightly.
“We’ve had an amazing six-and-a-half seasons and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with everybody – I will be extremely emotional to leave, but I’m very excited for my next role within the City Football Group.”
Since the Club's relaunch as a professional outfit in 2014, our former boys' Academy coach had guided City to three Continental Cups, two FA Cups and one league title, plus consecutive Champions League semi-finals at the first attempt.
Captain Steph Houghton paid tribute to 'the best coach she'd ever played under'.
“I'm absolutely delighted for him and his family," she said. "Good things happen to good people and he really deserves it for all of the hard work he's done with us on and off the pitch - really transforming us into a title-winning side and one of the best teams in Europe.”
Until his move in February, Cushing would continue to take charge of the team with Alan Mahon ready to step in as interim boss for the remainder of the campaign, while the application process for a suitable replacement began.
City had already kicked off the New Year in style before the news of Cushing's departure, storming to a 4-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Women's Super League.
Impressive victories over Everton and Birmingham followed, while the cup double-winners also secured progress in both cup competitions, defeating Sheffield United in the Continental Cup and Manchester United in the FA Cup - only the third Manchester Derby meeting in professional competition.
Sadly, Cushing's final season as manager would not end as it started: with Conti Cup success, as City were edged out by familiar foe Arsenal in the semi-finals, in his penultimate game in charge.
There was further cause for celebration as Steph Houghton and Caroline Weir penned new contracts with the Club.
“It was definitely an easy decision. I would like to think I’ve improved a lot. It’s a great Club and it really tests you, taking you out of your comfort zone. There’s a pressure to improve and a lot of expectation to win every game and win trophies, which has improved my mindset. It’s been everything I hoped for.”
The start of February marked Cushing's final game in charge and also saw lifelong City fan Keira Walsh commit her future to her beloved childhood Club.
After the midweek Conti Cup setback, the players were determined to send the gaffer off to his new adventure on a high.
Pauline Bremer opened the scoring before Arsenal hit back but youngster Lauren Hemp headed home the winner to claim all three points - an apt fashion in which to complete to Cushing's tenure, especially with one of the country's brightest young talents on the scoresheet.
A fitting and fond farewell.
With a trip to West Ham postponed due to poor weather, City's next game welcomed Bristol City to the Academy Stadium, as Alan Mahon took charge for the first time.
Gemma Bonner bagged the winner in a gritty display but City would find our scoring touch a matter of days later, as fourth-tier Ipswich Town visited the reigning champions in the FA Cup.
A record-breaking afternoon saw three hat-tricks scored, as the holders ran out 10-0 winners - our biggest ever win - to book our place in the quarter-finals.
February served up a feast of entertainment with a crunch clash against fellow title challengers Chelsea the following week.
The encounter would unfold as one of the most thrilling encounters in FA Women's Super League history, as the heavyweights contested a scintillating 3-3 draw!
“It wasn’t good for my heart! It was a good game for the neutral but I obviously would have liked the three points. We showed character to come back from 3-2 down, which I was really pleased with. The players worked incredibly hard.”
Who knew then that would prove to be the final action of the 2019/2019 league season...?
March - April - May
Following an international break in the women's game, everyday life all over the world ground to a halt in March as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe.
As the UK government implemented a nationwide lockdown, women’s football was suspended and ultimately, the 2019/20 campaign curtailed with Chelsea eventually awarded the FA Women's Super League title on a points-per-game basis.
“Nobody likes it to go down to that kind of circumstance but it was out of our control. It's a season that will be remembered - not for the football but for the virus that affected it. It will be remembered for that and go down in history.”
May bore the dawning of a new age with the appointment of a new Head Coach: former City striker and Academy Manager Gareth Taylor.
The 47-year-old former Wales international had led City’s Under-18s for the past three seasons, guiding the youngsters to successive Premier League U18 Cup victories in 2019 and 2020, having previously overseen the Club’s Under-16s.
Achieving consecutive promotions during his time at Maine Road, Taylor featured 55 times for City between 1998 and 2001, including the Club’s famous Division Two Play-Off Final win over Gillingham in 1999.
With eight years of coaching experience within the Club and City Football Group, Taylor holds a wealth of knowledge and experience in developing talent and said he is relishing the challenge of guiding City to the next level on all fronts.
“It’s now my job and responsibility to go and continue with the success the Club has had in recent years. I’m really looking forward to that. We’re progressive. The Club have been the flagbearers for the women’s game over the initial period of inauguration and we’re now looking to improve.”
The new boss also hinted more new faces were set to join the ranks...
June - July
There was more good news, as Gemma Bonner, Megan Campbell and Karima Benameur Taieb penned new deals, while the influential Jill Scott earned a promotion to a player-coaching role.
“It’s been a journey from the beginning – six years – and every year, there has been a new chapter to the story and I’ve enjoyed every single part of it.”
Under Taylor's stewardship, the players returned to the City Football Academy after a four-month absence - albeit under unusual circumstances with COVID-19 restrictions. When matches would return, they would be played behind-closed-doors, with the notable absence of fans.
Naturally, there were departures over the summer as Pauline Bremer, Matilde Fidalgo, Tessa Wullaert and Emma Bissell left for pastures new but the 2020 transfer window would prove to be one of the most exciting yet - for City and the rest of the league.
The first to arrive was 22-year-old Chloe Kelly, who blossomed with Everton in the 2019/20 campaign.
City's new number nine became a household name last season, hitting the headlines with nine goals in 12 appearances – several of those long-range Goal of the Season contenders.
Having began her fledgling career with Arsenal, the youngster netted inside 22 minutes of her Gunners debut. After signing her first professional contract with the North London outfit, she headed out on loan to Everton in a move which would be extended following the Toffees' promotion.
Agreeing a permanent deal with the Merseysiders, she became a key component in their impressive first season back in the FA Women's Super League, attracting attention with a string of influential displays.
At international level, since working her way through the youth ranks, which garnered bronze medal success alongside new teammates Georgia Stanway, Ellie Roebuck, Lauren Hemp and Esme Morgan at the Under-20 World Cup, she has also gained three senior England caps.
As with many young players, the opportunity to learn alongside some of the world's best at City proved too good to turn down.
“Players have made huge steps since moving to Manchester City. I've been watching them and seeing how much they've developed and it's made me eager to do the same.”
July also brought more pleasing news that the 2019/20 FA Cup competition would be allowed to resume in September, after FIFA awarded special dispensation.
Next to rock up, two sensational signings in United States stars Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle.
Starring for the Stars and Stripes in last summer's World Cup success, the midfield maestros swapped the States for the Super League, eager to embark on new and exciting chapters, testing themselves in England and in Europe.
Mewis touched down first, accompanied by her suitcase and a CV glittering with golden glory.
Originating from a footballing family in Massachusetts – with her sister Kristie also playing professionally – the 27-year-old began her career with the UCLA Bruins, clinching National Championship and National Player of the Year honours.
After winning the NWSL Championship with the Western New York Flash, she then linked up with North Carolina Courage, where she was named in the NWSL's Best XI, having lifting two more league titles and three NWSL Shields. She also played against City at the International Champions Cup last summer!
No stranger to success with her country at youth level with triumphs in the Under-20 CONCACAF and World Cup tournaments, she continued to shine in the senior squad, aiding the USWNT's dominance in the SheBelieves Cup, Tournament of Nations, CONCACAF and 2019 World Cup.
Now ready for a new challenge, she opted to join City on the hunt for European glory.
“This is a really cool, unique and amazing opportunity in my career and I'm so excited to come and see Manchester as a city, be a part of this incredible Club and hopefully help the team achieve their goals.”
Compatriot Lavelle swiftly followed in her teammates' air miles in crossing the Atlantic, boasting an equally-impressive resume.
The playmaker, who scored in the World Cup Final with a superb solo run against the Netherlands, had spent four seasons in the NWSL, after playing collegiately at the University of Wisconsin.
Stints with Boston Breakers and Washington Spirit followed and the 25-year-old became the number one pick in the NWSL College Draft and Dispersal Draft respectively, before earning a place in the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League Best XI and 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Best XI.
With teammate and close friend Mewis by her side, she savoured success with the US's youth and senior teams, also claiming the Golden Ball at the 2014 CONCACAF and captaining her country at the 2014 U20 World Cup.
“I’ve heard amazing things about the Club and it just felt like a really good fit overall. I want to challenge myself and feel that Manchester City is the perfect environment to do so and hopefully, I’ll find some success along the way.”
Meanwhile, City returned to match action with Taylor taking charge for the first time with a series of pre-season friendlies, locking horns with Coventry United, Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Everton.
For the first time since 2008, the FA Women's Community Shield would be contested with FA Cup holders City facing league champions Chelsea in a double-header with the men's fixture at Wembley. Emma Hayes' side would emerge victorious in the pair's first meeting of 2020/21.
Most disappointingly, PFA Young Player of the Year Lauren Hemp suffered an injury which would rule her out for the start of the season.
September sparked additional joy with the capture of European Champions Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood, as the pair returned to England following spells with Champions League heavyweights Olympique Lyonnais.
Bronze's re-signing marked the return of a fans' favourite and true legend with the right-back putting pen to paper on a two-year deal to embark on a second spell at the Club, having clinched the FA WSL, Continental Cup and FA Cup in sky blue already. (She also happened to score in both Cup Finals...)
Departing for France in 2017, the defender sought Champions League glory and she experienced it three-fold with consecutive victories in the competition, in addition to successive Division 1 Feminine league titles, two Coupe de France Féminine triumphs and one Trophée des Championnes.
With a new dream of seeing the WSL become the world's top division, Bronze says she always knew she would come 'home' to City.
“Having already experienced everything that City have to offer as a Club, it was a no-brainer for me when the offer came in and there isn’t another team in England that I would have looked at."
Twenty-four hours later, Greenwood followed suit, also bringing a wealth of experience, with the left-back having represented Everton, Liverpool, Notts County, Liverpool, Manchester United and Lyon, whilst also impressing on the international stage with England.
Alongside Bronze, she thrived in France, tasting success on the domestic and continental front, and hopes to transfer the 'addictive winning mentality' over to her home country for the benefit of her new Club, the Lionesses and the English league.
“This Club has always impressed me with their success, how much importance they view the women’s game with and the players they attract. It’s an environment I’m really looking forward to working in.”
September - October
The long-awaited 2019/20 campaign kicked-off with a trip to Aston Villa and City comfortably despatched the newly-promoted side, thanks to a Georgia Stanway brace.
Houghton set a new FA Women's Super League record in the process, becoming the first player to register 100 wins in the competition.
Taylor's side endured a mixed start to the league campaign, however - held to draws against Brighton and Hove Albion and Reading and falling to defeat at Chelsea, after defeating Spurs 4-1.
Cup competition brought better fortunes, as 2-1 wins over Leicester City and Arsenal booked our placed in our third successive Women's FA Cup Final, while our Conti Cup campaign started brightly with a 3-1 win over Everton.
New recruits Kelly, Mewis and Lavelle were making instant impacts.
“People are often very quick to write us off. Maybe because we’ve been so dominant over the last few years, some people enjoy seeing us have difficult results! The league is so strong this year throughout, that so many teams are going to take points off other. Don’t be surprised to see more ‘shock results.’”
The opening day of November will live long in the memory, as City retained the Women's FA Cup with our third Wembley triumph in the competition in four years - and Taylor's first trophy success.
The holders defended the trophy with a 3-1 victory over Everton at Wembley in the 50th edition of the tournament, as substitutes Georgia Stanway and Janine Beckie struck in extra-time to snatch the win.
The holders produced a spirited display to edge the Toffees in a tense encounter, after the two sides had played out an enthralling 1-1 draw in normal time with Valérie Gauvin cancelling out Sam Mewis' opener.
Having lifted the trophy in May 2019, City had held the honour for a total of 547 days heading into this clash and triumphant in the first of two FA Cup tournaments this season, ensured our name will remain on the prestigious silverware until at least next May…
“It’s just a taste of what I came here for. It’s about winning trophies and this Club epitomises that – and that’s exactly why I’m here. I’m so proud of the team and the staff – the job they did behind-the-scenes was unbelievable and that’s what made us lift the trophy: a collective, team performance.”
Riding the crest of the wave, City enjoyed an upturn in fortunes in November, kicking off with a 3-0 away win at Liverpool before thrashing Bristol City 8-1 in our highest ever league win.
The month also highlighted the Club's incredible squad depth, as Taylor rotated throughout, handing valuable minutes to youngsters Esme Morgan and Jess Park and those on the fringes.
Laura Coombs savoured her best spell in a City shirt, bagging three Goal of the Season contenders in as many games, including a stunning strike in only the second league Manchester Derby - a 2-2 draw at Leigh Sports Village. The midfielder earned her first call-up to the England squad since 2015 as a result!
“I’ve watched that goal against Liverpool quite a few times but not as many as the one against United! I think that one was more special because of the occasion and the fact it was against our rivals – it was the most I’ve ever celebrated a goal! Then there was the England call-up… That came as a surprise – a very good surprise!”
Conti Cup progresssion was also secured, as City topped Group C with seven points, while the 2020/21 Champions League draw pitted Taylor's side against Swedish title-winners Göteborg...
A crucial month in the calendar stated five festive fixtures: three pivotal league games and the start of another European adventure with a two-legged clash against Göteborg.
A 3-0 triumph at Everton marked the perfect start with Scotland Player of the Year Caroline Weir starring, crafting all three assist in the first half!
The midfielder's magic touch travelled to Sweden, where City had to come from behind to claim victory, as Stanway netted her 50th goal for the Club and Mewis headed home the winner from Weir's pinpoint delivery.
The Scot then turned match-winner, hitting a dramatic, injury-time curler into the corner to snatch a vital victory over Arsenal in the league - the moment she said she'd waited all season for!
“My role is to help the team and it was nice to do that. We needed the points and we’re delighted to have come out on top in the end.”
With two away goals in Sweden, City stood in pole position to clinch European qualification and sealed the job with a 3-0 triumph on home soil to reach the last 16. Pleasingly, Hemp announced her return from injury with a glorious wonderstrike for the opener!
Sadly, the final game of 2020 - a league trip to Birmingham - was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch but Taylor's side completed a rollercoaster year in fine form.
To end 2020 in celebratory fashion, summer recruits Bronze and Mewis earned global recognition, with Bronze hailed as The Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and Mewis claiming the United States' Soccer Female Player of the Year.
Roll on 2021...