Manchester City are a mess right now. The side who lost just one game last season as they came within a whisker of stealing the title from Chelsea have already lost three of their opening four of the new campaign. Forget any dreams of the title, this version of Man City is ready to hit the panic button.
If there is one game you would not want after such a troublesome start, it is the Manchester derby. After four consecutive second place finishes in the WSL, City were hoping that this season they would get their hands on the title for the first time since 2016, yet the regression we have seen from Gareth Taylor’s side so far this season has been shocking.
Having beaten Everton 4-0 at Goodison Park on the opening weekend, things looked good for Taylor, who had won the 2020 FA Cup with the Citizens. Captain Steph Houghton was on the scoresheet that day, but since then, the side have fallen apart under pressure.
The first chink in the armour was a disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid. Then came a defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur, before they were spanked 5-0 by Arsenal, with the two London sides boasting perfect records so far.
But if that trio of results were somewhat understandable, the 2-0 home reverse against West Ham United was unacceptable. It was another match where Ellen White and co were left frustrated in front of goal, while the players that had looked so sharp against Everton on opening day, were once again second best.
“I still believe massively,” boss Taylor said defiantly after that defeat. “I think I have proved I can bring a brand of football that is exciting to watch but is winning football.
“We are up against it. Everything seems to be going against us. We won’t get help from anywhere else, we have to do it ourselves. I still thought we had enough out there to win it and we didn’t. We are always fighting all the way.”
Fight is exactly what will be needed as City take on United at Leigh Sports Village, live on BBC One this lunchtime. Marc Skinner’s side, who some expected to struggle this season after their turbulent summer, have won three of four league matches and come into this one fully confident of adding to their neighbour’s misery.
If City lose this one, with an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea to come at the end of the month, things look bleak for Taylor. Given what we saw last season from Emma Hayes’ side, and what we have seen from Arsenal this term, it is difficult to envisage a scenario where City can win the title having lost four of their opening five games. If they lose against United, they have almost certainly lost the title after just five matches.
But they do have history on their side. Since United’s late arrival to women’s football, they are yet to beat City in the league and this is something that captain Steph Houghton is desperate to continue, against the odds.
“The Manchester derby means absolutely everything,” she told the MCFC website. “Since United came into the league and in football in general, it’s the most special fixture to look out for in the calendar. There’s always added spice when you play your local rivals. They haven’t beaten us in the league, which is something we’re proud of and want to continue.”
Currently 9th in the table, only above the pointless trio of Leicester, Birmingham and Reading, this game is pivotal to City. A win for United will reignite their own title aspirations, but Taylor and those in sky blue could see their season become a damp squib if they fail to secure all three points.