Phil Neville, the national coach, witnessed an accomplished display from Manchester City on Wednesday night that makes Nick Cushing’s team favourites to reach the Champions League last four in the return leg next week.
City made the game an exhibition of attack versus defence and came away feeling a higher margin of victory might have been returned although, given a recent dip in form, the manager did not complain.
“We would have loved to have won the game by more but it’s European football so we try not to get too greedy,” said Cushing. “This is a good foundation to go over there with. I feel like we can score – go there and win the game.”
City reached the semi-finals last year where they lost against the eventual champions, Lyon. Linköping, Swedish champions for the past two seasons, have never ventured beyond this stage.
City were on a run of three matches without a win, their poorest sequence since May 2015, which included a 1-0 defeat against Arsenal in the Continental Cup final last Wednesday. A factor here was fatigue, as Cushing had nine players called up by Neville for England’s SheBelieves Cup campaign in the USA.
Cushing had spoken of the need to dominate possession and his side did so. Melissa Lawley took a corner from the right that to Linköping’s relief yielded nothing. Demi Stokes swung in a ball from the left that bounced across the face of the Swedish goal.
At this stage the visitors’ best hope appeared to be a set-piece play. Kosovare Asllani, once of City, was fouled and Lisa Lantz sent in a high free-kick that found Lina Hurtig in the area but she fell. This was a rare Swedish foray near Ellie Roebuck’s goal.
City impressed with the rhythm and direction of their passes, targeting in particular the visitors’ right. Scott again got in behind and crossed and, when the ball came to Georgia Stanway outside the area, she should have done better than to lift her shot over the bar. As the half-hour approached the contest had lulled and City’s task was to remain patient and continue their slick build-up play.
Cushing might have despaired when Nikita Parris broke, had Lawley free along the right but failed to find her near goal. Seconds later Keira Walsh hit a post.
When Maja Kildemoes found Hurtig, Steph Houghton lunged and the No 9 went down in City’s area. The Academy Stadium crowd held their breath but Stéphanie Frappart, the referee, waved play on and Hurtig bounced back up with no complaints.
Moments later City had their breakthrough which came with the bonus of Lantz being sent off for conceding a penalty that Parris slotted with ease. Lantz had been booked only moments before and Frappart instantly issued a second yellow for handball.
Parris had a golden chance to double the lead when racing clear but could only hit Hilda Carlén in goal. At the break, though, City could be content.
They continued to pin the visitors back as Houghton hit a raking pass towards Lawley along the left and the Swedes struggled to push forward.
Parris came close to scoring a second when near Carlén’s goal but the ball was steered away by a flailing defence. Then, finally, Jane Ross did double the score. The centre-forward had been starved of service but she took her chance with a looping header that Carlén will be disappointed not to have kept out.
Imperative, too, was to not concede an away goal though, given how Houghton and her centre-back partner, Jennifer Beattie, were virtual spectators, this was a remote possibility. Instead, City continued to camp around the Swedes’ area. It may prove the same at the Linköping Arena.
Cushing said: “I don’t think this team knows how to sit back. It doesn’t want to.”
Chelsea take control
Ji So-yun and substitute Erin Cuthbert were on target as Chelsea claimed a 2-0 first-leg win at Montpellier to take a commanding Women’s Champions League quarter-final advantage.
Ji struck four minutes into the second half at La Mosson to give Chelsea a vital away goal ahead of next week’s second leg in London and Cuthbert added a second moments after coming off the bench.
The Blues had to dig deep as Montpellier twice hit the woodwork and former Chelsea striker Sofia Jakobsson proved a dangerous opponent.
Chelsea, in their first quarter-final in this competition, will now hope to advance to the last four.