Manchester City Women Season Preview 2016: Can the Sky Blues compete with Chelsea?

After finishing as second-best to the Blues in 2015, can Nick Cushing's side go one further this year?

Manchester City Women Season Preview 2016: Can the Sky Blues compete with Chelsea?
City will be looking to make up for a trophy-less 2015 this year. (Photo: Manchester City WFC)

As we gear up for the new FAWSL season, all the talk is about Chelsea Ladies and the potential of them retaining their WSL 1 title.

That works perfectly for Manchester City then, who have made significant waves in the transfer market as they look to build on last year's second-placed finish.

Two points separated them and the Blues last season but, with Champions League football to grace the Academy Stadium for the first time this Autumn, they will be confident of pushing the South London outfit - and any other challengers - all the way this campaign.

Statements made in the off-season

Chelsea have strengthened tactically over the winter, cleaning out players they see as surplus to requirements and bringer in higher quality to replace them. Man City have done something similar.

In the attack is where they have really improved. As well as renewing the contracts of Daphne Corboz and Isobel Christiansen, and turning Nikita Parris' loan from Everton into a permanent deal, they have brought in Jane Ross and Kosovare Asllani - the latter of whom's arrival shows the progress of the league as a whole.

Expected to light up the league after a promising pre-season, the Sweden international's arrival is a real statement of intent from Nick Cushing's side.

At the other end, Marie Hourihan has come in to provide back-up to goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, whilst Megan Campbell will give the team another option at left-back. This could be especially important after Demi Stokes - who usually plays in that role for the Citizens - impressed thoroughly in a more advanced role for England in the SheBelieves Cup this month.

The impact on the team from the losses of players like Natasha Harding and Krystle Johnston could have been much more significant had Cushing and co. not recruited so well.

Promising pre-season

Wins over FC Rosengård, Melbourne City and Pitea IF have put the Sky Blues in good stead for the start of their 2016 league campaign.

A lot of big names have faced up to this team in the early months of the year, but City have stood tall and recorded victories comprehensively along the way.

They kicked their campaign off with a terrific win over Liverpool on Saturday in the FA Women's Cup too, with a 2-0 result seeing them through to the quarter-finals.

The Reds are something of an unknown quantity in the WSL this season after mass changes both on and off the field, but City were hardly concerned about that when they travelled to Merseyside looking for passage to the next round.

Goals from Georgia Stanway and Parris did the job, as they showed their ruthlessness ahead of Wednesday's big kick-off.

Key players

There are plenty of players who will shine for City this year, with the quality of the squad just so high. From England captain Steph Houghton, to stalwarts Jill Scott and Toni Duggan, to the big off-season signings; there is talent all over the park.

Of course, Houghton will play a key role as she looks to lead her team to some silverware following a barren 2015. With four competitions this year, there's plenty to play for and she will be tasked with ensuring the side are focused, organised and motivated as they pursue success.

The experienced Scott will do a similar job in the centre of the park without even sporting the captain's armband, whilst Bardsley will be a commanding presence as always behind the back four.

All eyes will be on Asllani as she looks to make her mark in England, whilst Lucy Bronze has spent plenty of time in the limelight after her terrific performances for the Lionesses at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, but this year should be Christiansen's year.

The England international is the one who makes City tick, with her pulling all the strings in an advanced midfield role. Not only does she create chances, she gets on the end of them too and tucks them away with the composure of an out-and-out number nine.

Having been rewarded with international recognition recently, she will only develop into a better player as 2016 goes on, and the amount her team will benefit from that cannot be understated.

Potential worries

City have inevitably been compared to Chelsea throughout the off-season, and the same is bound to occur throughout the actual season as the two early front-runners for the title start their campaigns.

So far, these comparisons have resulted in the following judgement; that the Blues have better strength in depth than the Sky Blues, and this could be a telling factor in the deciding of silverware.

Going forward, City have an abundance of options and plenty of cover. However, at the back, the same cannot really be said. With Kathleen Radtke and Emma Lipman leaving the club, the centre-back options have been significantly reduced and not bolstered. If Houghton or Abbie McManus are to suffer with injury or be dealt a suspension, the squad will be stretched.

Jennifer Beattie can fill in, but she is better utilised in a holding midfield role and the team would then have to fill that gap instead anyway.

If it does come down to out-scoring opponents though, City are arguably the team best suited to such a task.

Tussle at the top awaits

Another season like the last can be expected from Cushing's team, but with them pushing Chelsea much further. Despite the gap at the end of the campaign, the Blues clinched the title with relative ease under minimal pressure. The same will surely not occur this year.

Whether the depth of their squad will let them challenge on all fronts is another question, but they are likely to prioritise the league first and foremost and thus secure another Champions League berth at the very least.

They have the quality to lift silverware in 2016, and are the best bet to stop Chelsea from dominating.