Just like a SpaceX rocket, Manchester City soared momentarily and then fell right back to earth. After their best performance of the season against Manchester United with a resounding 3-1 victory at Old Trafford, they were then held by Leicester City in the Conti Cup. The Foxes also came away with a big bonus point during the penalty shootout, which definitely won’t have sat well with the WSL heavyweights.
It seems like Gareth Taylor has work to do at City, but how many times have we said this lately? There’s only a finite amount of work you can do before your efforts are deemed not good enough. My warehouse manager at Amazon told me this numerous times when I was 17, so I am an expert in this, trust me.
Going into the Manchester derby, there were mumblings that maybe Taylor had taken this team as far as he could. He had been expected to take City to the summit after establishing themselves as one of the WSL’s top teams.
With the summer acquisition of Dutch star Jill Roord to their ranks, many expected them to fight for the title. Yet, with seven games in, they are already nine points behind holders Chelsea going into the next match. In a 22-game season, that’s akin to being half a second behind Usain Bolt as soon as you get out the blocks. And like the Jamaican, Chelsea pull further ahead as the race goes on.
Defenders of Taylor would say their two defeats this season are just them being unlucky. The 2-1 loss against Arsenal was due to them being wasteful and a Khiara Keating mistake. The Brighton loss was unexplainable. City registered 35 shots to Brighton’s six, hit the crossbar and post multiple times and still managed to lose 1-0. You’d have to applaud the high levels of self-sabotage on display.
After the dominant victory at Old Trafford, Taylor felt confident enough in his City team to make nine changes against Leicester in the Conti Cup. I mean, why wouldn’t he? Leicester were winless in their last five games and have a poor defensive record. It would be just another day at the office for Taylor’s side. That was the thinking — until the game started.Embed from Getty Images
From the very first kick, it seemed like something was off. Like when your siblings are overly nice to you. This was only heightened when Keating mishit several passes out the back and put her defence under a lot of pressure with Remy Siemsen missing a 1-on-1 after a defensive error. The mistakes kept on coming and were eventually punished with Missy Goodwin playing an excellent reverse pass to Janice Goodwin, who slotted it past Keating.
You’d think then the mistakes would maybe stop, but you’d be wrong. Keating, attempting to play it to Steph Houghton, mis-kicked the ball and almost scored an own goal. From the resulting corner, Sophie Palmer rose highest and headed it in to make it 2-0.
When your centre-back has been your best player in a half in which you are 2-0 down, it doesn’t make for good viewing. But with Houghton clearing off the line and making numerous last-ditch challenges, that was City’s reality. It seemed Manchester forgot how pesky and annoying Foxes can be. But in the second half, they quickly realised how easy they are to scare off.
With Lauren Hemp, Yui Hasegawa and Alex Greenwood coming on for City, the entire game changed. These changes signalled an incoming siege on the Leicester goal, which was breached in the 49th minute. Deyna Castellanos picked the ball up just outside the box after a surging run by Mary Fowler. On the right-hand side of the box, she struck it past the keeper, with the ball dinging off the crossbar and in.
Then, against the run of play, Sam Tierney missed an absolute sitter from five yards away. A costly miss as City soon equalised through excellent work again by Castellanos. She won the ball up high and pulled it back for Laura Coombs in the middle of the box to make it 2-2.
With Demi Stokes coming on for her 200th appearance and given the armband by Houghton, it seemed the win was on its way. Until it wasn’t. Leicester defended resolutely and gave Man City not even an inch, with them committing numerous tactical fouls to keep the score even. Roord coming off the bench couldn’t even provide the winning inspiration.
In the 92nd minute, Willie Kirk channelled his inner Louis van Gaal and took off Lize Kop for first-choice Janina Leitzig. An inspired substitution as Leicester ended up winning the shootout 4-3, with Leitzig saving Houghton’s penalty to seal the deal.
Even Katy Perry would be inspired by how hot and cold this City side is. This is a team which is supposed to be challenging Chelsea. It’s a team that boasts world-class players throughout with a deep squad but is without European football. So the excuses for Taylor are running thin.
Are we being too harsh on both Taylor and City? It’s only been two losses, which, in context, were freak results. They sit top of their Conti Cup group and recently beat their biggest rivals 3-1 away. I’m afraid that this is not enough, though. This is a high-level sport, and with it comes expectations. When you fail to meet them, the chopping board comes out.
With Tottenham, Aston Villa, Everton, and Liverpool coming up — all winnable fixtures — you’d expect Taylor to quieten the rumblings of him taking this City team as far as he can. But lose any of these fixtures, and the rumblings may become shouts.