Cushing tells City to step up to regain crown from double-winners Chelsea
As the Women’s Super League starts today, Luke Edwards hears about the club’s plans for domination
If it was due to a random quirk of the fixture list churned out by a computer, or an astute individual with a sharp eye for drama, there could not be a better opponent for Manchester City to face in their opening game of the Women’s Super League season than Chelsea.
The two pre-eminent club sides in English football will launch the campaign in each other’s company today. An old rivalry resumed at the earliest opportunity; hostilities resumed, shots fired.
It will not decide where the WSL silverware goes this season, but it will give an early indication as to who hold the upper hand; whether Chelsea, last season’s league and cup double winners, really have ended City’s era of dominance, or whether Nick Cushing’s side are in a position to regain their place as pack leaders.
City won the double in 2016, Chelsea did last season, at the end of the same campaign in which both reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time, City losing to eventual winners Lyon, while Emma Hayes’ Chelsea were knocked out by Wolfsburg.
“These are the games you want,” said Cushing, the 33-year-old who is into his fifth year as City boss.
“We have to play everyone twice, but you cannot deny that the games against Chelsea, the games against Arsenal, the games against Barcelona, they are the ones you get involved in this for and this trip down to London, it’s a first opportunity to really stamp our authority on the league.
“I don’t think the fact Chelsea won the double last season is extra motivation for us. The motivation for us is to remember how close we got last season, without winning anything. We finished second in the league, we reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League, as well as the final of the League Cup, and we didn’t win any of them.
“When you are at a club like Manchester City, you always have to strive for progress.
“You can’t always win – but we want to be more successful this season than we were last year.
“It wasn’t a complete failure, but we definitely felt we needed to improve in a few areas and that is what we are trying to implement this season. We were competitive last season, but we need to finish the season as strongly as we start it.”
Although Chelsea will once again be their main rivals, along with Arsenal, Cushing suspects the landscape is changing and that things are going to get even tougher.
“We have to consistently look at how we can improve, whether that’s the men’s operation or the women’s,” he explained.
“That is the culture we have at this football club, and we want to continue being successful and to keep pushing our image of how we want the game to be played.
“But this will be the most competitive Super League season yet, 100 per cent. I predicted that last season would be the most difficult campaign we’ve had and I expect this one will be even tougher.
“Every year the women’s game in England is improving and every year teams are improving their operations. We have got new teams in the league this season, it is constantly evolving, and we have a fully professional league this season for the first time.
“I think it will be extremely competitive. It is exciting for the women’s game, but we have to constantly have one eye on the fact that we need to be better than we were last season.”
At the heart of City’s success has been captain Steph Houghton. The centre back has had her fair share of injury problems in recent months, but she is fully fit and ready to begin the most important season of her career, which will end with her leading England’s challenge to become world champions in France next June. “Steph is a fantastic player, but first and foremost she is a special person,” said Cushing. “She is a great character. She is the Manchester City captain, she was the Arsenal captain and she is the England captain because of her leadership qualities and the person she is. Yes, she is an incredible footballer and she has improved immensely over her time here. “She consistently works hard to become a better player day after day and she sets the standard every day, on and off the pitch.
“It’s a big year for her, but knowing the person she is, she will relish the challenge and she will be supremely motivated to rise to it.”
Strong squad: England captain Steph Houghton (far left) and Jill Scott celebrate a goal for Manchester City, while Nick Cushing (below) is in his fifth year as City manager