Manchester City ready for Women’s Super League title charge after Abu Dhabi prep

Captain Steph Houghton upbeat as City look to claim first league win in eight seasons

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Manchester City captain Steph Houghton is hoping the team’s warm-weather training camp in Abu Dhabi can spur them to a first Women’s Super League title in almost a decade.

The 2016 champions, chasing only a second championship crown, have spent a week in the capital as they prepare for what appears a thrilling finale to the 2023/24 season.

City arrived in Abu Dhabi off the back of a huge victory at league leaders Chelsea on February 16. Gareth Taylor’s side triumphed 1-0 in the top-of-the-table clash to move level on points with the holders and, in the process, snap their 22-match unbeaten streak at home.

City are now second in the standings only on goals scored, as they seek to deny Chelsea a fifth successive title by claiming their first in eight seasons.

“The atmosphere has been building; you can feel it around the training centre,” Houghton told The National. “The girls have the confidence and the team's been playing well, so when you get that feeling, it's important to keep a hold of it.

“We've come off the back of some really tough games and to then go away to Chelsea and win was a massive result for us. The last time we won there was 2016, and that victory proved to be key for a really successful season for us.

“We're in a great position now, but we've still got a long way to go.”

Hugely experienced, Houghton will no doubt be key to City’s chances of pipping Chelsea to the title. The team has won their past eight league matches, and will surely be looking for a similar run as they enter the final eight games of the campaign upon their return from Abu Dhabi.

City are back in league action on Saturday, at home to Everton.

“I was speaking to [fellow defender] Demi [Stokes], and this has been one of the best teams that we've been a part of,” said Houghton, who joined City in 2014. “The group is unbelievably together, and we know what we all have to do.

“Everyone just gets on with what we have to do, and we'll push each other that bit to keep getting better. The atmosphere off the pitch has been great with everyone being so close, and you can feel that on the pitch where everyone wants to be successful whether they're playing or not.

“That's the sign of a good team for me: that people can sacrifice themselves and put the team first to give ourselves a great chance. That's been the feeling inside the camp.”

Stokes moved to City a year after Houghton, and by the following season had helped the club to that first Women’s Super League crown.

Asked what the secret to success would be if they are to emulate that feat, the full-back said: “It's been a similar approach to 2016. We've spoken a lot about wanting to win the league and get back up there, but also staying focused and not getting too far ahead of ourselves.

“It's been important for us to control what we can and we've honed in on that.”

Meanwhile, as a regular visitor to Abu Dhabi, Houghton has seen first hand the growth of girls’ football in the emirate.

This month, the Manchester City Abu Dhabi Cup featured more than 2,200 girls and boys across 166 teams, while the Girls Talented Player Programme continues to provide a platform for aspiring footballers in the country to learn from City Football Schools coaches.

“It's totally different thinking back to 2015, when there were very few girls playing and nothing like a Girls Talented Player Programme here, so that's amazing to see,” Houghton said.

“It's a credit to the coaches in Abu Dhabi and across the region who are giving the girls that opportunity, because once girls have that opportunity, it's about them taking it.

“I was here a few months ago and to see how many girls were there just playing and enjoying training on a Tuesday night was such a pleasure. Hopefully it can continue to grow from here.”

Updated: February 28, 2024, 5:29 AM