Updated: Nov 13, 2019
The race is on.
The race, that is, against Sydney FC to become the first W-League team to be crowned four-time champions, with the Sky Blues picking up their third title last season.
City famously dominated upon our entry into the W-League, winning the title in three consecutive seasons from 2015/16-2017/18.
The race to four titles could be decided this season too, with both clubs tipped to feature in the Grand Final given our respectively strong squads.
The City girls won the club’s first-ever piece of senior silverware and have given fans plenty to be proud of over the course of their incredible title-winning streak, but with this season set to be the most competitive yet, they’ll have to rise up and set the benchmark once again.
Finish: 5th (missed Finals on GD)
Last season was by no means a total nightmare, but rather a case of ‘too little, too late’.
With a slew of recovering stars returning from injury early in the season, the team lost three of its first four fixtures before a mid-season revival gave us a slight chance to qualify for Finals.
Disappointingly, a second Melbourne Derby loss of the season in Round 9 effectively killed our chances of qualifying, though some surprise late wins ensured we came close.
More than anything, last season showed us that the rest of the league is catching up.
When City first joined in 2015/16, we were streets ahead of every other team in the competition. Now, the other teams are just as capable of attracting big-name stars, have raised the standard of professionalism and care afforded to their players, and are playing some brilliant, competitive football.
We need to step up once more.
Goalkeepers – Melissa Barbieri, Lydia Williams
Defenders – Lauren Barnes, Chelsea Blissett, Steph Catley, Emma Checker, Ellie Carpenter, Tyla-Jay Vlajnic
Midfielders – Yukari Kinga, Milica Mijatović, Sofia Sakalis, Nia Stamatopoulos, Emily van Egmond
Forwards – Rhali Dobson, Claire Emslie, Kyah Simon
Expect us to make more signings over the coming weeks, given that W-League regulations require 20-player-minimum squads.
Proposed Best XI:
Carpenter – Checker – Barnes – Catley
Kinga – Mijatović – van Egmond
Dobson – Simon – Emslie
The only preseason hitout we know of was a behind-closed-doors friendly against the Victory which was played on Sunday, November 3, and ended 3-3, with goals for trialists Mari Pastor (Alamein FC) and Maja Markovski (Box Hill United), as well as one for Emily van Egmond.
The match report available on the club website emphasises the attacking strength of our right-hand side, particularly mentioning impressive performances by Rhali Dobson and Ellie Carpenter.
The big names
Well… there are a lot of them, so we’ll keep it to just three for now.
Arguably the biggest who’s arrived over the off-season would be Emily van Egmond, the tough-tackling midfield enforcer who can also get on the score sheet and has been capped 91 times for the Matildas. Comfortably one of the best to grace the W-League, van Egmond’s importance to achieving midfield balance is irrefutable and her performances could lay the groundwork for a title challenge.
We were going to give Ellie Carpenter her own category in this preview, but thought we’d do our best to condense our praise into a neat little paragraph and emphasise that if we’re priming for a tilt at a fourth W-League title then every player is just as crucial. That being said, Carpenter might just be the most exciting superstar we have on our list. Despite being named at right-back on the team sheet, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the exciting 19-year-old become one of our most effective attacking outlets with pace to burn, dangerous overlapping interplay and lethal crossing.
Over at the other fullback position, captain Steph Catley is capable of providing similar attacking threat, whilst arguably being even more defensively astute, given her experience, than her young Matildas teammate.
And on the topic of gun defenders…
We might as well complete our analysis of the backline, with new arrival and fringe-Matildas centre-back Emma Checker looking like an excellent acquisition from Adelaide United, whom she’d since 2017. Playing alongside returning City favourite Lauren Barnes and in front of world-renowned keeper Lydia Williams, this might just be the best defence in the league coming into the new season.
Tactics: The City way
From our first match, we’ve aimed to emulate the same City philosophy as the men’s team.
We’ll likely line up in a 4-3-3 and play a possession-heavy game.
In previous years, we’ve had a strong CDM who breaks up and restarts the play, allowing our fullbacks to push forward and contribute to the attack. It also has given licence to our more advanced midfielders to roam higher and contribute goals.
In attack, there’s a fair bit of variety. We tend to play wide and try to bring the wingers into the game, but there will also be a lot of controlled possession with plenty of rotation around the final third. Whilst we lack height in attack, we have plenty of speed in wide areas.
We’ve had issues defending in transition throughout the last two seasons. A decent number of goals we conceded came from counter-attacks where Lydia Williams was left in one-on-one situations against an approaching attacker or with only a single defender near the ball. Part of this goes hand-in-hand with our formation/style, where we’re employing a high press and trying to win the ball high up the park to score early. With Carpenter and Catley as our fullbacks, expect an all-action approach in the same way that the Matildas press hard.
Talking City’s One to Watch – Claire Emslie
This is where Carpenter was going to feature given her high-octane attacking and defending on the right flank, but it’d be unfair to leave out Scottish winger Claire Emslie, who’s previously spent time with Manchester City in the English Women’s Super League.
Throughout our highly-professional YouTube highlights scouting sessions, Emslie’s displayed shades of Barcelona and Netherlands winger Lieke Martins, one of the very best in the world; plenty of confidence on the ball, the ability to beat players with skillful dribbling, wicked outside-the-box shooting and incisive crossing to set up teammates for tap-ins. Beyond that, another major selling point of Emslie’s is that she’s comfortable on either foot and can apparently play right across the front three, a quality which may prove vital with only one recognised striker in the squad right now.
Whilst we mentioned earlier this week that Milica Mijatović’s artistry feels as though it requires a top-class striker to fully utilise her opportunity-creating talents, Emslie seems like she could be the type of player to create her own chances from absolutely nothing – and finish them too.
On the rise – Nia Stamatopoulos
Stamatopolous became our youngest ever W-League debutant when she took to the pitch against Canberra United at 15 years and 96 days during the 2018/19 season, the fourth-youngest in league history.
The attacking midfielder, who’s featured prominently for the Junior Matildas, demonstrates creativity in spades and has long competed against much older and stronger opponents at both the NPLW and W-League levels.
Young Stamatopolous finds herself in a similar predicament to someone like Ramy Najjarine, given that she’ll likely earn plenty of game time off the bench, but is determined to make the most of her opportunities rather than just provide a bit of creative spark and the occasional flash of brilliance.
The keys to a successful season…
Last year, there were more than a handful of missed opportunities that could have rescued us from poor results; Yukari Kinga missed a free header in the 22nd minute from inside the six-yard box in the season’s first Derby which we went on to lose 2-0; Rhali Dobson hit the crossbar twice from fantastic scoring opportunities against Canberra and Brisbane, matches which we also went on to lose; Round 5 brought about a disappointing, last-kick-of-the-game equaliser against Adelaide – all results which cost us Finals qualification.
A quick start and sustained focus
The 2018/19 campaign felt mostly like the players had eyes on the World Cup ahead, so making finals felt like less of a priority than staying fit and not getting injured. Plenty of players arrived late and, similar to the season before, we started slowly. Whilst we know that we’re capable of producing huge performances in high-stakes Finals football, we can’t always be relying on other results to get there in the first place.
Given that we recruit heavily from the NWSL, many of our players arrive late in the piece, if not after the season has begun. With a 12 match season, this leaves little margin for error; in 2018/19 we won once in the first five games, meaning that even though we were strong in later matches, we were chasing the whole season. Not once in the 14 rounds (two bye rounds included) were we in a Finals position. This season’s early matches against traditionally weaker sides Newcastle, Canberra and Adelaide will be crucial to set us up for the rest of 2019/20.
A quick glance across the league…
The contenders and their superstars
We mentioned them briefly at the start, but Sydney FC seem to be perennial finallists in the W-League and this season will likely be no different. They’ve got a strong, well-rounded squad, most of whom are going around again for another season following their recent championship win. Their off-season hasn’t been overly impressive in regards to signings – it hasn’t needed to be – but they’ve made a huge coup in the form of signing the 2018/19 W-League Golden Boot runner-up Veronica Latsko from Adelaide United. Former-City player and experienced Matilda Alannah Kennedy will also feature for the Sky Blues in the heart of defence, playing in front of reigning NWSL Goalkeeper of the Season Aubrey Bledsoe, whilst Caitlyn Foord will provide the attacking threat up-front.
City are tied with Brisbane Roar for most Matildas in a squad this season, with the Roar boasting the likes of Katrina Gorry, Claire Polkinghorne, Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Yallop and Hayley Raso (as well as backup Matildas keeper Mackenzie Arnold). In other words, they’re stacked as hell and ready to contest for the title.
We’re not so sure that Western Sydney will be a contender per se – they did, after all, finish bottom of the league last season – but the Wanderers have made a huge statement over the offseason, securing North Carolina Courage superstar Lynn Williams for the 2019/20 season. Williams scored 12 goals and assisted six times in her 24 appearances for the 2019 NWSL champions and was the closest contender for the Golden Boot behind Sam Kerr, who won it with 18. We’d argue that Williams is comfortably the biggest arrival in the entire league this year.
How you can get involved:
It’s a little disappointing that there’s only one double-header with the A-League side all season and even more so that it doesn’t come until the final round. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to support the City girls in their seven matches within Victoria, with six of those being home matches.
Whilst our first home game is actually being played in Shepparton at John McEwan Reserve in Round 3, subsequent home fixtures will be played at ABD Stadium (Broadmeadows) in Rounds 5, 6 and 9, and at CB Smith Reserve (Fawkner) in Round 10.
Round 12 will see the season’s second Derby clash be played at Lakeside Stadium (Albert Park) as a Victory home fixture.
The good news is, however, that you’ll be able to catch EVERY W-League game of the season via TV broadcasters and streaming services.
Both ABC and Fox Sports will broadcast the Sunday afternoon matches, whilst Fox Sports will also provide coverage for the Thursday night fixtures.
Every match of the Finals Series will be shown live on ABC and on Fox Sports.
Every match of the 2019/20 Season and Finals Series will be streamed live on Kayo and can also be accessed via the MyFootball Live app for Telstra mobile customers.
City’s W-League campaign kicks off away to Newcastle Jets at 6pm on Sunday, November 17.