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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

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

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