Manchester City's first venture into the UEFA Women's Champions League sees them face off with Zvezda Perm.
The established visitors
In their maiden season in the UWCL, Manchester City did well to avoid the top seeds such as last year’s finalists Lyon and Wolfsburg (fellow WSL side Chelsea, weren’t so fortunate) and many saw Zvezda Perm as a favourable draw for the Citizens. However, the Russian champions should be given the respect they deserve, founded just eleven years ago they’ve consistently been a dominant force in the Russian Women's Football Championship.
Having been crowned champions in five of their last ten seasons – a feat only matched by the now defunct, FC Energy Voronezh, although having fallen short of a record sixth title in the 2016 season to WFC Rossiyanka (who face SFK 2000 Sarajevo in their round of 32 tie), Zvezda have secured a berth in the UWCL for the 2017-18 season. While not as commanding as they were last season, Elena Suslova boasts a strong squad filled with Russian and Ukrainian internationals, eager to prove themselves on the biggest stages.
2016-17 marks the sixth season Zvezda have competed in Europe, reaching the final in their first season (2008-09) when they were soundly beaten 7-1 over two legs by FCR Duisburg - memorably the last season the completion was known as the UEFA Women's Cup before the rebrand. In all four seasons the Russian champions have competed in the UWCL they’ve navigated their way past the round of 32, but only out of the round of 16 once before being narrowly beaten (0-0 and 0-1) by Lyon on the way to their first UWCL title.
Certainly not a team for anyone to write off.
Although it’s City’s first foray into Europe, Nick Cushing will take heart from the knowledge that half of his squad will be well versed with European competition. Brits Jill Scott, Toni Duggan and Lucy Bronze all experiencing the rigors of the UWCL with Everton, Steph Houghton and Jennifer Beattie well used to it from their time at Arsenal as well as Jane Ross and Izzy Christiansen at Glasgow and Birmingham City respectively.
Beattie and Ross both enjoyed spells on the continent too, Beattie with Montpellier and Ross with Vittsjö GIK, not to mention Tessel Middag at ADO Den Haag and Ajax. So too Kosovare Asllani first at Linköping then PSG, the Swede has scored with both in the competition. Asllani is not alone with her goal-scoring exploits in Europe though, Scott and Bronze are the only two of the eight not to have scored in the UWCL.
With the team having gone a full 120 minutes against Birmingham in the Conti Cup final on Sunday, Cushing may be forced into shuffling his already thin squad, not waiting to start players who may not have 90 minutes in their legs.
Predicted line-up: Bardsley; Stokes, Beattie, Houghton, Bronze; Middag, Christiansen, Scott; Asllani, Ross, Parris.
After a storming season in England any success in Europe will be viewed as the cherry on top of a very tasty cake.