City’s Galacticos policy off to encouraging but fruitless beginnings

Liverpool Ladies FC v Everton Ladies FC - The FA WSL

5 quick thoughts on Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City

1. Encouragement aplenty but no end result for City

Manchester City’s FA WSL existence could hardly have got off to a more difficult beginning. Pitched into action away from home to the 2013 champions, few outside of an excitable media following would have naturally anticipated anything but defeat. Even the messages from the City camp over pre-season have been firmly about baby steps – a line they were keen to reiterate in the preliminaries to this evening’s fixture.

On another night, though, they might have come away from this evening with a point and perhaps more, for while the visitors were clearly troubled by Liverpool’s high intensity in the early stages, they showed enough in attack to strike genuine concern into the title favourites. Indeed, Liverpool were indebted to new ‘keeper Libby Stout on numerous occasions keeping them in contention and then ahead after Natasha Dowie’s second half strike. Given that City’s squad have barely taken the field together, this was a start that offered far more than the ‘0’ in their points column might indicate.

2. Toni Duggan is blessed with genuine quality

Played on a pitch for which the term ‘cut up’ was invented, City’s new striker showed a level of ingenuity and a deftness of touch to suggest she will be a fixture at the top end of women’s football for years to come. Her appearances for Everton, of course, had suggested as much – but this was a really impressive showing from the England forward, and on a night in which the opposition ‘keeper had been in less sterling form, she may have added to the goals she notched in her FA Cup debut for City at the weekend.

3. Gemma Davison looks a shrewd acquisition for Matt Beard

They may not have been runaway league champions in 2013, but few would argue they didn’t deserve the title. Coming into this season missing the considerable talents of the newly-signed Lucy Staniforth, influential Nicole Rolser and loaned out Louise Fors, questions over the Reds’ penetration would have been justified. Under those terms, the signing of Gemma Davison from Arsenal looks an inspired piece of business. Nominally deployed on the left wing, but given free reign to drift across the forward line, Davison was excellent throughout and caused innumerable problems for City’s defence. While her final ball lacked something – and a relatively poor goal return at Arsenal has been a question throughout her career to date – she might have opened the scoring with a searing shot having from the right just minutes in. Davison possesses occasional magic in her boots and looks a good fit at Liverpool.

4. City’s Galacticos policy is understandable, but perhaps flawed

City’s investment into women’s football has been well documented, but their on-the-pitch acquisitions bear more than a marginal resemblance to the maligned galacticos policy practiced by Real Madrid in the earlier part of the 21st century. While none would argue that City have moved anything except decisively in the transfer market, the matching of international, FA WSL experienced players with others who’ve hardly pulled up trees in previous City incarnations was showed up on occasions this evening. In defence, in particular, new captain Steph Houghton was occasionally left exposed, while only half (at a generous assessment) of their deep-lying players are truly suited to playing the ball out from the back as exhibited in the number of times chances were gifted to Liverpool through sloppy play in the City defensive third. Perhaps an approach of upgrading more generally throughout the team may have borne greater dividends?

One further note on this point; one major summer acquisition, ‘keeper Karen Bardlsey, faces a battle to get into the City lineup on tonight’s evidence. With injury opening the door to backup ‘keeper Andrea Worrell, the Welsh international was sensational, at one point denying Natasha Dowie a seemingly inevitable goal with a smart stop down to her right. Sometimes it’s the unsung players who really stand out.

5. Natasha Dowie could prove to be the difference again this season

Last season’s league top scorer, Natasha Dowie was the difference between an almost-but-not-quite season and the league title for Liverpool in 2013. Her smartly taken goal in the 70th minute decided this tie and, while she ought to have scored much earlier on when clean through, her constant threat in front of goal was in evidence yet again. For all their good football throughout the team, it is the occasionally blunt instrument of Natasha Dowie that puts them a step above their rivals. She is a player to be admired and feared.

(The rest of this week’s FA WSL fixtures will be covered in Monday’s football round-up)

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