PREVIEW: Manchester City Women vs Zvezda 2005 Perm

Manchester City Women make their Women’s Champions League debut as they host Zvezda 2005 Perm at the Academy Stadium tonight.

Having been crowned WSL 1 and Continental Tyres Cup champions in the space of a week, City find themselves venturing into Europe just 4 days after sealing the historic domestic double. Tired legs in a brand new competition against experienced opposition all point to City facing their toughest test to date when they line up against Zvezda.

Zvezda were formed in 2005 and have won the Russian Women’s Football Championship 5 times and the Russian Women’s Cup 4 times since their inception. Just two years after forming, Zvezda qualified for the Champions League after winning their domestic league in 2007, making them eligible for the 2008-09 competition, then known as the UEFA Women’s Cup. The debutants went beyond all expectation by making the final following several impressive wins over much more established sides. However, Zvezda ran out of steam and they succumbed to a sobering 7-1 aggregate defeat to FCR 2001 Duisburg of Germany. Since then, Zvezda have reached the round of 16 or better in every Champions League competition they’ve participated in, but haven’t gone beyond it since the 2010-11 season.

Clearly, Zvezda have pedigree in the competition and have had steady results since 2008-09, so it won’t be plain sailing for City by any means, especially taking into account the two-leg format of the competition.

 

Although City have never played in the Champions League prior to tonight, the squad boasts several players who have Champions League and European experience. Captain Steph Houghton has 27 appearances over 4 campaigns with Arsenal Ladies. Her most successful campaign came in 2013 as she captained her side to the semi-finals. Centre-back partner Jennifer Beattie is just as experienced, having scored 9 goals in 25 appearances for Arsenal Ladies. Beattie also played for Montpellier HSC in D1 Féminine, France’s top league, during the 2013-14 season. Kosovare Asllani is a Champions League runner-up having reached the 2015 final with PSG, playing 95 minutes against 1. FFC Frankfurt. Additionally, Jane Ross joined City from Swedish side Vittisjö GIK averaging almost a goal every other game in the Damallsvenskan.

Perhaps a clue as to how City will perform in the Champions League this season comes from City’s pre-season game against Champions League-established FC Rosengard in February. Rosengard reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League last year and have won the Damallsvenskan title for the past 3 seasons, but City looked in control throughout the game and came away with a comfortable 3-1 win. City have kicked on since, have key players back from injury and look like a much more solid outfit at the back than when they played the Swedish champions. Despite being an experienced side, Zvezda don’t have the same pedigree as FC Rosengard. Tonight’s clash will be tricky for the visitors, who face a huge task in breaking down the best defence in England.

In team news, there are no new developments regarding players coming back from injury, with City manager Nick Cushing confirming in Wednesday’s pre-match press conference that Megan Campbell and Abbie McManus were rehabbing well but are still not fit. Georgia Stanway is still with England for the U17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan and so is unavailable for selection. During Sunday’s Continental Tyres Cup Final clash against Birmingham Ladies, City had just 3 outfield players on the bench so Cushing may promote a couple of development squad players to the first-team bench to fill out the squad.

Predicted City line-up: Bardsley, Bronze, Houghton (C), Beattie, Stokes, Walsh, Scott, Christiansen, Duggan, Asllani, Ross.

 

City player to watch: Jane Ross. Ross’ last goal for City came against Arsenal Ladies in the league in early September, but hasn’t scored for the Blues from open play since August, but Ross is built for playing on cold nights against tough opposition – she’d run through brick walls if she was asked to. On her day she’s a deadly finisher and, where chances might not come easily against Zvezda, having a powerful athlete who can score from any angle leading the line is a huge bonus.

Predicted score: Manchester City Women 1 – 0 Zvezda 2005 Perm

KO: Thursday 6th October, 7pm, Academy Stadium.

Written by Jill Peacock

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