Nick Cushing believes City must produce a faultless performance to claim a spot in the Women’s Champions League final.
The Blues lock horns with Lyon in the last four second leg in France on Sunday, having held the reigning champions to a goalless draw at the Academy Stadium and denying Reynald Pedros’ side an away goal last weekend.
With Lyon aiming to reach a record seventh final, Cushing’s side remain the underdogs but the Blues boss asserts playing without the added pressure of expectation could prove to be an advantage.
Of course, a score draw would be enough to send City through to a first European final and the manager also urged his side to take their chance wholeheartedly with another outstanding performance.
“We know we will have to have the game of our lives,” he told press. “We are prepared for it, we are excited and we are confident because we are fearless.
“We know this Lyon team is the best team in the world – it has a plethora of talent. If you look at the bench or even the players not making the bench, there are so many talented players.
“Everybody expects Lyon to win and get to the final and win the Champions League. At the start of the season, when you look at who’s going to win it, everyone expects Lyon to win it because of the team that they have and the history they have in this competition.
“Naturally, because Lyon’s standards are so high and they’re so used to winning, they’ll be disappointed they didn’t win (the first leg).
“In football, anything can happen – anyone can beat anyone. You don’t need me to tell you about all of those occasions in football when something has happened that nobody was expecting. Can we win? Of course, we can win. Can we get to a final? Of course, we can… but there’s going to be a process we have to go through and a part of that is a difficult game.
“If anyone expects to get to a Champions League final or win a Champions League, you know it isn’t going to be easy. Look at the final last year against PSG – it was a real difficult game that went all the way right down to the end. To win a Champions League, you have to be a special team.
“Do I believe we have a special team? You only have to look at the improvement since 2014 – we’ve got special people and special players on and of the pitch… we’ve got a special team. It’s going to take time but maybe this our time.
“It will be an experience for us but we believe we can win. We’ve shown we can win here. We just want to get on the pitch and play the game and make sure when we come off the pitch, we’re proud of our performance.
“It’s football – we’re playing against a difficult team and we know the areas where we have to stop them and we have to score. It’s not daunting – no-one expects us to win so we can come here with a real free way to play and a real desire to get to the final.
“If we score, we have a real chance and we know we can do that so we’re really excited.”
Cushing elaborated on the notion his side’s display in the home leg proved testament to the progress made since the two sides met a year ago at the same stage of the competition.
“I think we’re a different team this season,” he said. “Obviously, everybody knows we lost the players that we lost but we added some real hungry, enthusiastic players – players that have really improved over the season.
“Every team is different under every coach. Lyon are definitely a stronger team in players. Look at the three players that they added last year – Lucy Bronze, Amandine Henry and Shanice van de Sanden. That is going to make you stronger.
“If I look at the situation that we’re in, we’re definitely in a better position than we were last year because we have come here on a level par. We have the away goal if we score and we also have the experience now of having played Lyon four times – this will be the fifth.
“We’re immensely proud of getting to the semi-final again and showing progress because this time last year, we were 3-1 down and needing to score three against the best team in the world. We knew it was a difficult task.
“We just want to keep improving and being a team that shows progress every year, coming here with our younger players to experience the crowd and experience this level of the game.
“We know there are areas with the ball we can improve on and areas without the ball where we can be better. People will come here and think we’re really happy with nil-nil and we are but this year, although we know we’re good, we feel we can be better than we were last Sunday.
“We have no expectations, we have no pressure and we can just go and play. If we don’t make the Champions League final, people will still see it as progress because we came here last year completely written off and completely dead and maybe the fact that we won here bred a little bit of belief in us.
“Inside the club, the belief is there because in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, we have shown progress. We are a young team. We’ve been a team for four years and we stand on the verge of potentially being the greatest team and getting to a Champions League final. Stranger things have happened in football.”
In terms of squad fitness, Cushing confirmed he has no new injury concerns.
“Everyone is good,” he stated. “We’ve had the luxury of a full week of training and the players have been able to rest after Sunday’s game. Everyone is up for selection. Obviously, we have the long-term injured players – Pauline Bremer and Megan Campbell – unavailable but apart from that, the squad is healthy.”
Asked who would occupy the goalkeeping spot, following Bardsley’s imperious display at the Academy Stadium, Cushing remained coy.
“We’ve said before that the goalkeeper position is the most competitive it’s ever been,” he declared. “KB has consistently played but unfortunately after the Euros, she picked up an injury and she’s picked up little niggles here and there.
“She’s healthy now, she’s in form and she played well so she’s confident and she’s happy. It’s a real competitive position and we’ll pick the goalkeeper we feel will meet the demands of the game.
“We know that for us to get to a Champions League final would be a great achievement for this young team. We’re going to use the experience as a real positive, go out there and play, try and do what we always do, play well and get to a final.”