Manchester City, England’s invincible team, finally met their match in UEFA Women’s Champions League holders Olympique Lyonnais. There is certainly no shame in losing against one of the world’s finest football ensembles, but City manager Nick Cushing is adamant that his team could have been so much better.
The tough test was anticipated
Cushing is not naïve. Knowing that his Manchester City side are the debutants taking on the reigning champions, the manager said, “we expected a tough game, we never expected it to be easy,” but further explained that “the hard part for us is we dominate the ball in all our games.”
Sizing up to Lyon is a difficult feat and City were aware Cushing told the media, “we knew we were coming up against a different opponent, a top team and we respected that,” the manager added “but I think we contained them for large parts of the game.” The obvious pride from the manager’s voice broke into a tone of mild frustration as he shared, “we can be so much better with the ball and that’s the positive going into the next game.”
It was not just the difficulty of the match that Cushing and his Citizens had anticipated, they expected the type of play Lyon would subject them to, “the opposition has so much experience that throughout the game no matter how the feel of the game was going, we knew that they would be able to survive.”
Disappointment for a side that does not lose
“I think the disappointment is that…first and foremost we don’t lose. So it’s always going to feel like a feeling we haven’t felt for two years, especially here [at the CFA],” is how the manager responds to a question about how the toil of picking the team up. Yet offers hope by making the same point as earlier, a point he goes on to reiterate throughout the press conference, “the players are disappointed but they know straight away that we can be so much better with the ball.”
Even with a deficit that piles all the odds against Cushing’s City the manager remains positive, if not a little ambiguous, “It’s definitely not over because we can grow from that experience, with all the big games coming up, whether it be the second leg at Lyon, the FA Cup final at Wembley and the Spring Series - we have to grow from that experience of not having the ball at times.”
Returning to the idea that City could have performed better, the manager said “we know we have so much to give, we can perform so much better with the ball and keep the ball better to cause problems,” Cushing continued, “so it’s definitely not over but it highlights that we have to be at the top of our game in Champions League semi-finals.”
Opportunity to exploit Lyon’s weaknesses
While it would be unlike Cushing to make dramatic changes to the line-up or tactics in the second leg of the fixture, City are being asked to complete a huge feat. To be best prepared, Cushing assured the media that “we’ll look at the game and look at areas that we can tactically adjust to maybe exploit more of their weaknesses.” Additionally, the 33-year-old shared his learnings from the match, stating that “we had to play a style that we haven’t played for the last year because we’ve dominated the ball,” he continued, “once we were organised, we contained them, yeah of course they scored – the penalty killed us – they scored two goals and we’ll look at why they scored those two goals. When we’re better with the ball, we can exploit their weaknesses for sure.”
Nick Cushing further revealed the weaknesses of Lyon that he had referred to came from watching their quarter-final clash against Wolfsburg, "we knew in a game where you can keep the ball better than them, you can create opportunities and Wolfsburg kept the ball better than Lyon and beat them 1-0."
Although City did not quite manage to complete this and the manager further expanded “but if you don’t keep the ball, especially at times when you know you’re playing against players that can, you’re going to give them opportunities to control the game."
Moving forward for Cushing means looking at these vulnerabilities and how his Manchester City side can expose them away from home, “we have to look at the areas to minimize the amount of the ball that they have and we can keep it, once we keep it we can show our real quality that we have over the past year.”
Cushing believes in Man City’s strategy
Another positive take away from City’s first Champions League run has been the younger players who have made the step up to face the most elite teams in Europe. Speaking on this Cushing said, “one thing we want to do is give opportunity to our young players to go and be better and put themselves in the shop window for the international game.”
The manager refers specifically to two players, “Kiera Walsh and Mel Lawley have not done themselves any harm for trying to progress their careers internationally but also for our team in these big games.” In addition, the manager who aims to develop younger players gave his credit to late substitute Georgia Stanway, as he said "she looked dangerous and looked lively when she came on. We’ll continue with that strategy and we know that we’ll grow with that strategy and get better.”
Having seen Lyon’s bench, it is clear the two teams have different approaches to the game,
“You can see they [Lyon] have a huge squad, they can take off Alex Morgan and bring on [Eugénie] Le Sommer. They’re a good team with real strength in depth,” but Cushing reiterates that “our strategy may be a little different. We believe in young players, we want to improve young players, and grow them so that they’ll play our style.”
“We’re not going to screw up the blueprint and sign all these players, we trust our players and I know we can be so much better and the players do” the manager concludes.