The 2019/20 Women’s Super League season is one that will go down in history, and not only for its early curtailment due to a global pandemic. In the second season of the English top-flight being fully professional, numerous attendance records were broken, with more eyes on the game than ever before, the boost helped by the Lionesses’ inspiring performance at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Manchester City’s home game against Chelsea was a spectacle of its own, and even though many thought it would be incredibly influential at the time, nobody believed that it would be the definitive match - or the last one of the season. In fact, the game against Chelsea symbolises the entire season for City - exciting football and good performances, but in the end, just not good enough to be victorious.
The year in which club legend Nick Cushing departed and a changing of the guard was seen in the dugout, the City faithful will remember the season fondly, here’s a look at all the talking points from the blues’ memorable 2019/20 season.
Lauren Hemp shines
The 2019/20 season saw a number of young players come through the ranks to have incredible seasons at the top level, with Lauren Hemp the star.
The 19-year-old had previously shown glimpses of her skill as a winger, but still only played a bit-part role at Manchester City.
This year’s campaign was increasingly better, however, and it quickly became evident that Lauren Hemp would play a crucial role in Nick Cushing’s side. Her blistering speed on the wing tore apart defences, and her crossing ability complemented the clinical finishing of Pauline Bremer, or the returning Ellen White, in the middle.
The addition of a true left-winger at City is something that has been long needed, and with that, Lauren Hemp brings her ability to run at defenders with pace and skill on the ball that very few other players in the division are able to replicate.
The Norfolk-born 19-year-old also has a tendency to drift inside unnoticed, as well as cutting inside from the left, and it is that ability which helped her to pick up five goals in the 19/20 campaign.
Her performances in the WSL earned her a call up to Phil Neville's Lionesses side for their friendly against Portugal, where she carried on her form shown in the league.
Beth Mead's ankle injury sustained in February meant that Hemp would take the spot as the starting winger for the Lionesses at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup.
The USWNT are a side who only the top players can trouble, and although the Lionesses' overall performance on the night left much to be desired, Hemp ran Vlatko Andonovski's side ragged and was easily England's best player of the tournament.
Her form throughout 2019/20 has impressed many - she was named Player of the Year by Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club, nominated for The Athletic's Young Player of the Year award, and was also the only City nominee for the Barclays FAWSL Player of the Year title.
'Legend' is often an overused phrase in football, but Nick Cushing will be remembered as exactly that at Manchester City.
He joined the club as a coach in the men's youth setup in 2008 and was given the role of Head Coach for the revamped 'Manchester City Women' side when they joined the FA Women's Super League in 2013.
In his six years at the City Football Academy, he was influential in the increasing professionalisation of the club's women's football setup, and brought regular success to Manchester: one WSL title, three Continental Cups and two FA Cups.
He was also at the helm for the club's domestic treble back in 2016 when they won the WSL, FA Cup and Continental Cup.
It came as a surprise to many when it was announced back in January that he would be making the move to be assistant Head Coach of New York City FC in the MLS, and a big part of the women's setup at Manchester City was lost.
Speaking to the club's website when his move was made public, Cushing spoke about how it was not an easy decision to leave: "Making the decision to leave MCWFC has been incredibly difficult given the fantastic players and staff that we have here and the incredible success that we have achieved together - it isn’t one that I have taken lightly"
His parting gift to the club was a 2-1 victory over Arsenal, a victory which ultimately proved to be the difference between the blues and the gunners in the race for second place, bringing Champions League football to Manchester next year.
After assistant Alan Mahon took to the dugout on an interim basis, new Head Coach Gareth Taylor will have big shoes to fill, but he will be looking to restore success, something which the blues missed out on this year, to the City Football Academy.
Roebuck earns the number one spot
Young players stole the show this year at Manchester City, and it's safe to say that Ellie Roebuck has earned herself the number one spot.
After veteran goalkeeper Karen Bardsley picked up an injury in pre-season, the 20-year-old was handed the opportunity to become the first choice goalkeeper at the Academy Stadium, and she has been one of City's best players this year.
Roebuck impressed at the International Champions Cup in the USA, but truly made her mark during the first Super League game of the season, with an incredible reflex save to deny Manchester United's Jane Ross the opening goal during derby day at the Etihad Stadium:
Goalkeepers are often an overlooked position in football, but Roebuck has been as crucial this season for Manchester City as any of her attacking counterparts.
In games where defensive frailties in City's backline have shone through, Roebuck's shot-stopping abilities have been a much-needed element of the squad.
As was displayed during the save against Manchester United, her quick reactions play a very large part of her game and make her one of the league's best goalkeepers.
After impressing this season, she has now become a more regular element of the Lionesses setup and Phil Neville has started to pick her as her nation's number one.
There's one problem which plagued Manchester City throughout the 2019/20 season, and it is the length of time for which they were left without a proper right-back.
October was a difficult month for the blues, and one which had knock-on effects for their entire season. After the first Atleti tie, they fell away to Manchester United, lost to Arsenal in the league, and were knocked out of the UWCL after a weak second-leg in Madrid.
Manchester City's right-back woes were never properly addressed this season and the impact could easily be seen. Nick Cushing opted not to give young defender Matilde Fidalgo a chance, instead pushing Janine Beckie to a deeper role in the pitch in which she has been deployed as more of an attacking full-back.
Later in the season, when Beckie was unavailable due to being away with the Canadian national team, it was Georgia Stanway who bizarrely took to the pitch as full-back, once again pulling a key player away from City's attack and leaving a defensive weakness which other teams could exploit.
However, it looks as if this is a problem which the blues will alleviate via the transfer window this summer. According to reports from the Telegraph, Lionesses defender Lucy Bronze is set to join Manchester City once again, as well as ex-United captain Alex Greenwood.
Derby day victories
With rivals United having recently reformed their women's team, the 2019/20 campaign saw the first top-flight derbies between the two sides.
The league's curtain-raiser, the first Manchester Derby of the season, hosted at the Etihad Stadium, was a spectacle for the growth of women's football off the back of the Lionesses' successful run at the World Cup.
31,213 supporters were present for that day back in September, where the only thing separating the two sides was a wonder-strike from Scottish international Caroline Weir.
Just as the Manchester Derby has grown to become a heated event in which it is difficult to predict what will happen in the men's game, the women's game seems to be following suit.
The second derby happened just over a month later, with the two drawn in the same Continental Cup group. This time, City's fortunes were not to be as they lost 2-0 at Leigh Sports Village, with the main talking point for the blues the controversial sending off of Keira Walsh which resulted in a three-match ban.
Just as the second derby of the season will be remembered for controversial refereeing decisions, so will the third. The blues were 3-2 victors away from home in the FA Cup back in January, with Manchester United denied a goal which looked like it may have gone over the line:
Champions league secured
A draw in their final game against Chelsea before the league was curtailed condemned Manchester City to second place, qualifying them for next season's Champions League.
However, the Londoners were definitely deserving champions, having been unbeaten for the entire season and playing incredible football that had already seen them win the Continental Cup by the time that the league was finished.
Now a new era beckons for Manchester City, under the stewardship of ex-blue Gareth Taylor. A season which may have been viewed as unsuccessful by many, Taylor made his views clear when he was awarded the job of Head Coach - he wants to bring trophies to the Academy Stadium:
“It’s now my job and responsibility to go and continue with the success the club has had in recent years. I’m really looking forward to that.
“We’re progressive. The club have been the flagbearers for the women’s game over the initial period of inauguration and we’re now looking to improve.
“Improving means the domestic title – we’ve been successful once so far – first and foremost. Then, we’ll look at the competitions where we've been successful previously in the cups, and the Champions League is obviously something the club want to progress in.
“We’ve come close previously and it’s not going to be easy. In cup competitions, anything can happen on the day.
“That will be one of our aims: to look to progress in the Champions League and try and show some success in that competition.”