“I especially liked what I saw after two defeats.” It’s not your usual admission from professional football managers. Or certainly from ones whose ambitions and expectations rest on the pursuit of silverware.
But Gareth Taylor prefers the ‘glass half full’ approach. He benefitted from seeing how his newly-formed side, who underwent considerable “summer surgery”, as he terms it, would cope with adversity.
That’s not to suggest Taylor welcomes defeats, far from it, but the silver lining to City’s imperfect cloud is that they now know they are capable of a turnaround. They can, to coin an over-used football cliché, bounce back. They are equipped with renewed fortitude and steeliness.
Having lost their first two Women’s Super League games of the season, conceding six goals in the process, City are now unbeaten in seven, up to fourth in the table and three points off their Manchester rivals and will look to continue where they left off as the league returns after its winter break.
It’s in stark contrast to a difficult period experienced in the summer when City were poleaxed by the loss of multiple first-team regulars. Caroline Weir got the ball rolling, so to speak, swapping Manchester for Real Madrid, before Deadline Day brought the most disappointing news of all – prized asset Kiera Walsh was headed for Barcelona.
A world record transfer fee for a women’s player softened the blow somewhat, but would ultimately do little to plug the Walsh-shaped hole in City’s midfield. Add Lucy Bronze and Georgia Stanway, who left for Barca and Bayern Munich respectively, to the mix and you’ve got yourself a sizeable problem.
City’s approach, however, was pragmatic. They had to measure the scale of the fallout before confronting it. Their work in the summer was careful and diligent, but new faces needed time to adapt and settle. We’re five months into the WSL season, and only now are the fruits of their labour beginning to blossom.
“We’re pretty excited about what we have at the moment in our playing pool,” Taylor said. “We want this team to be ready to be at the very top of the game in the next two or three seasons. But it takes time.
“We have players who have come in from different environments, different countries. We’ve worked hard to establish what that looks like, who these players can be, and who we see as having the potential to be the best in the game in their position.”
The summer provided new opportunities of sorts. The chance to write a new chapter in the history of Manchester City Women, while paying homage to teams of old. The identity in City’s playing philosophy, for example, has not been lost, just redefined. Laura Coombs plays the Walsh role with style and elegance, Deyna Castellanos’ creativity is being utilised in Stanway’s old position, while Kerstin Casparij is doing her best Bronze impression at full-back, despite only being 22-years-old.
Then there’s the immoveable forces of Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp on either flank – the best wide attacking partnership of any in the league. No player has had more shots (12) or created more chances (12) in the WSL this season than Kelly.
They don’t change, they just get better. A staple source of reliability and consistency during an unsteady period of transition and adjustment.
“The game is changing a lot,” Taylor acknowledged. “We’re trying to build something and be successful, that requires not chopping and changing all the time. We’re trying to secure players for the longer term.
“My job is to improve on the pitch. We’ve got ourselves into a decent position after a tough start. That came off the back of quite a few changes in the playing staff.
“We want a squad who can compete on all fronts. When we dropped out of Europe like we did [in the summer] obviously that’s a disappointment but we’re trying to build for the future. Although that’s not to say we can’t do anything now.”
It’s a four-horse race for WSL honours this term. City gave their counterparts a helping hand by stuttering over the start line but have recovered admirably to ensure the league remains honest – hopefully until the end. After all, a wide-open title race packed with jeopardy makes for far more excitement.
“We can be pretty relentless in our pursuit of results,” Taylor said before the season commenced. Such conviction will be parament as City navigate the tricky middle portion of their campaign, which includes fixtures against West Ham, Aston Villa and Arsenal – all live on Sky Sports.
Taylor finished by summing up City’s situation, as he sees it at the midway juncture: “Halfway through the season we’re in a good position,” he said.
“We still believe we can win the league. We believe we can be there in the finals of trophies. It’s a tough job but one we feel we’re capable of.
“Our player availability is high. The injury issues we had last season have so far been eliminated. I learned a lot about this team in the first half of the season. I especially liked what I saw after two defeats. The things I saw in those moments told me that we’re going to be okay. I think we’ve proved that and got ourselves back into a healthy position.”
Watch West Ham vs Manchester City live on Sky Sports Main Event on Sunday from 6.15pm, kick-off 6.45pm.