Man City through to UWCL Semis but Goal Production a Concern

Following Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Fortuna Hjørring in Thursday’s second-leg of a UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinal, Richard Laverty offers his key takeways from the match. City advances (2-0 on aggregate) to face Olympique Lyon in the semifinals.

City Still Spluttering through Plan A

So far this season Manchester City’s results are following a familiar pattern: they ended last year’s unbeaten league campaign 2-0, 1-0, 2-0, and 1-1 before a 1-0 and 1-1 against Brøndby IF to set up their tie against Fortuna.

In 2017, Nick Cushing’s side have won 1-0, 1-0, 2-1, and 1-0 but all four results have been enough to see them progress to the semifinals of the FA Cup and Champions League before the Spring Series has even begun.

But how long can it last? The goals are slowly drying up and after the summer break last year, City’s defenders have become more clinical than main striker Jane Ross, who has managed just three goals since August last year. Ross has looked more and more isolated since teams started sitting back against them and over the same time span, center back Jennifer Beattie has four goals while Thursday’s strike put Lucy Bronze on six.

City’s solid back line sets them up to beat any opponent but it appears a question of how long before a Plan B is needed.

Plan B Could Be 3-5-2

It’s kind of ironic that Manchester City are one of the few top sides in the FA WSL (FA Women’s Super League) not to be using 3-5-2 at the moment. Whether it was Louis van Gaal with the Netherlands or Antonio Conte with Chelsea, the formation seems to be the “in thing” at the moment and it has spread to the FA WSL.

Emma Hayes adopted a similar formation last season while Liverpool soon followed along with Pedro Losa’s Arsenal. Notts County have now been working on a 3-5-2 system throughout preseason while newly promoted Yeovil have used the system for several years.

But it’s hard to think City wouldn’t benefit from the system when you look at their players. They have three top class center backs, one of whom always has to sit out when everyone is fit. It would give Lucy Bronze even more freedom to attack than she already has and gets a much needed strike partner for Jane Ross.

Yes, it takes away one of City’s key threats (wingers) but it would be interesting to see how the champions would fare if they gave it a chance.

Lucy Bronze’s Role was Interesting

Something strange has happened to Lucy Bronze since 2015. Her goal against Norway appears to have set off a chain reaction in which the right back pops up with big goals at the biggest times. If it wasn’t her header against Canada just days later, it was her last-minute volley against Reading last week or her extra-time cup final winner against Birmingham last year.

But the talk in the CFA press box on Thursday night was that Bronze wasn’t getting forward half as much as we’re used to; she played in a more restrained role and when she did go forward, the direction of her runs caused Fortuna issues.

Bronze regularly cut inside early on in her runs and darted down the middle of the pitch, almost getting in on several occasions before the ball was cleared. With an out-and-out winger in front of her — whether it was Nikita Parris or Mel Lawley — there was more chance for Bronze to express herself elsewhere and it certainly caused Fortuna more issues than most other players did.

Mel Lawley Doesn’t Look Out of Place

Nick Cushing was quick to make the point regarding how Melissa Lawley slots into his transfer strategy and how long he’d championed her signing when I asked him at Wednesday’s press conference and she continued to prove so on Thursday night.

Lawley has been trusted to start in both of City’s Champions League games since joining the club before Christmas and though it wasn’t her most spectacular performance, her pace and skill caused issues for Fortuna whether she was on the right or the left.

Ironically, despite being City’s latest young English import, Lawley was one of just three players on the pitch on Thursday that has played in a Champions League semifinal — following on from captain Steph Houghton and Kosovare Asllani. So maybe she shouldn’t have looked out of place either way but she certainly isn’t taking her time to settle in at Manchester.