Women’s Team

Cushing: Walsh’s intelligence unrivalled

INFLUENTIAL: Nick Cushing hailed Keira Walsh's footballing intelligence
Nick Cushing says Keira Walsh is one of the most intelligent footballers he has ever coached.

The 22-year-old Rochdale-born star has forged a name for herself as a technically gifted, reliable and hard-working midfielder and has played a key role in helping her beloved City to five trophies in five years.

READ: Beckie hits hat-trick as City sail through

WATCH: Women's Champions League highlights | City v Lugano

One of the first names in Cushing’s teamsheet, Walsh’s consistency has also earned recognition on the international stage with regular inclusions in Phil Neville’s Lionesses starting line-ups.

While many anticipated that the lifelong Blue would have been rested for City’s Champions League Round of 32 second leg clash against Lugano – with the hosts 7-1 up from the away leg – her manager admitted her presence is influential.

“I know people will question whether I should have played her,” Cushing admitted. “Ultimately, she is important to us.

“I was asked two weeks ago about Keira and how important she is. I will not hold back: she is up there unrivalled with the most intelligent players I have ever worked with.

“With European football, you have to be so smart in spaces and the way she picks up and affects the build-up, dictating play and helping other players, is pivotal to us.

“She’s professional enough to be able to turn around games every three days.

“We brought her off (after 55 minutes) so we could put Tyler Toland in that position.”

WATCH: Women's Champions League highlights: City v Lugano

Despite their strong advantage, Cushing had urged his players to maintain their standards in the home tie, as City look to build momentum in the hunt for four trophies.

The home side produced another professional display to record a 4-0 win, and Cushing believes the 2019/20 squad in their current form could be the most clinical team he has managed.

Janine Beckie hit a hat-trick, while Pauline Bremer continued her excellent scoring streak with her seventh goal of the season, providing further evidence of the strength in depth at Cushing’s disposal.

“It seems that this is the most clinical team,” he stated. “We are scoring a lot of goals but it’s very early.

“All teams we’ve had over the six seasons have had different traits and we try to mould them to play the style we are known.

“Janine Beckie, Pauline Bremer and Caroline Weir are really chipping in with goals and we have to push Jill Scott and Tessa Wullaert to do so too.

“The most pleasing part for me was how clinical we were over two legs. Maybe in previous seasons in the Champions League, we would have won the game 3-0 or 4-0 over the two legs, so to go into double figures is really pleasing for us.

“I thought we gave away too many counter-attacks in the first half of the away leg, which isn’t like us, but we changed something tactically in that game at half-time and controlled the next 45 minutes, and we controlled this game.

“We were disappointed with the goal we conceded, although credit to Kaela Dickerman – it was a great finish.

WATCH: Continental Cup highlights: City v Leicester

“We want to get back to being the team that doesn’t concede. We shifted the personnel and the way we concede goals, so we’ve retained our identity.

“People look back on the back four of 2016 with Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Jen Beattie and Demi Stokes as a real force but the last five games have been solid and we can only aspire to get there.

“I’m really pleased. When we have assembled squads in previous years, we had a firm XI and maybe seven or eight players who could be called upon in some games. That made consistency difficult.

“Last year and this year, we’ve assembled a squad which has consistency across the board – injuries don’t affect us as much. Of course, it’s never good to lose players but it doesn’t affect us as badly.

“That shows strength in depth we’ve got.”

Cushing also eased concerns of further injuries following stoppages in play, as Scott and Megan Campbell had to receive treatment.

“Jill has a knock but she’ll be fine,” he explained. “She gets a knock almost every game because of the way she plays!

“We’re disappointed with the injuries we’ve got and we’re trying to stop that so we don’t lose players, but there was no-one in the treatment room as I left so that's positive!”

Asked whether he had a preference of Round of 16 opponent, Cushing warned that any draw could prove a difficult test at this stage.

“When reflecting on it, we can draw Atletico Madrid in the next round,” he said. “It’s the Champions League.

WATCH: TrueView: 360 view of Weir's stunning derby winner

“I thought we were poor against Atleitco (last season) but we don’t want to feel like we want to avoid them.

“We have to concentrate on us – domestically and in the Champions League.

“We’ll face whoever we’re drawn against in the next game and we have to make sure the performances are good.”

Cushing and co. have little time to enjoy Wednesday's victory with another game just around the corner.

City visit high-flying Everton on Sunday 29 September at 12:30pm in the FA Women's Super League, looking to extend our impeccable start to the campaign.

While many have been surprised by the Toffees’ start, Cushing hailed counterpart Willie Kirk’s influence.

“Willie is a very good coach and he always plays the way I like,” he continued. “They have good, young players who fit his brief like he had at Bristol. We’ve benefitted from the likes of Claire Emslie and Lauren Hemp.

“We need to make sure we are on our game to try and get the result we need.”

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