Manchester City have become accustomed to ending seasons in spectacular style. They have experience of clinching titles in dramatic fashion and of injury-time goals reshaping campaigns. Now they must hope history repeats itself.
Five years after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero delivered the added-time strikes against Queens Park Rangers that made City’s men’s side champions for the first time in 44 years, Georgia Stanway conjured a stoppage-time decider at Sunderland on Wednesday to preserve their women’s side’s hopes of retaining their crown.
“This club will always fight to the end,” pledged midfielder Jill Scott recently. Stanway proved it.
Second-place City visit Liverpool on Saturday for a game that could end with either celebrating becoming champions, or neither. Any one of four teams can win the Women’s Super League. City are level on points with Chelsea, whose goal difference is vastly superior. The leaders are away at FA Cup finalists Birmingham. Third-place Arsenal have arguably the easiest fixture, away against a Bristol City side set to finish eighth out of nine, but need to rely on two favours from elsewhere.
Liverpool are the outsiders and have already lost 1-0 to City this season in the FA Cup, which Nick Cushing’s side won. This, however, is the senior domestic trophy. “I always think the league is the biggest one,” Scott said.
But it is a league campaign with a difference, half its normal length and branded the Spring Series as the women’s game transitions from a summer season to a winter season.
The calendar is being recalibrated so it aligns with both the men’s game and also the women’s FA Cup and Champions League, which are already winter competitions. The shorter season has reduced the margin for error. City have only dropped five points, drawing with Birmingham and losing to Arsenal. It is their only home defeat in the Women’s Super League for more than two years.
Now their task is to win away at the Select Security Stadium. Cushing’s side should be strengthened in their task, welcoming back both the Best Fifa Women’s Player and the reigning PFA Women’s Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd and Lucy Bronze.
Lloyd is available again for the final game of her short-term stint with City after serving a suspension for her red card against Yeovil. She will return to her native America having left a positive impression.
“Carli has been a fantastic player and an even better person to have around,” Scott said. “She has got such a great mindset. She gets in here at 8 o’clock in the morning and probably doesn’t leave until 7 or 8 at night so just to see how much work she puts into her game. She has scored a couple of important goals for us as well and I really believe that she is a big-game player.”
Bronze, meanwhile, was rested against Sunderland and is set to be restored to the starting XI against her old club.
“When she goes to her final gear in running, I don’t think there is anyone who can go past her,” Scott said. “Although she is playing as a defender, she offers a lot in attack because of her fitness levels. When she was at Liverpool, she was the driving force in them winning the league.”
As City look to Bronze to make it a golden day, once again, they can hope there are echoes of the past.
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