The ultimate Manchester City Women season preview: How much will Walsh’s Barca move hurt Taylor’s new look side?

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It's been quite a frantic summer for Manchester City.

After watching so many of their England stars bring football home with the Lionesses, they've grabbed headlines again for an exit in Champions League qualifying, seen 10 players depart the club and signed seven new faces.

It is head coach Gareth Taylor's third season in charge and it promises to be his most challenging yet. He's won the Continental Cup and the FA Cup so far but the Women's Super League title is what this club craves, with it six years since their first and only triumph.

Last season, they recovered from an injury crisis at the start of the campaign to salvage third place. With no such concerns this time around, can all the change prove to be a good thing in City's bid to become champions of England?

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    The Squad

    This feels like a new era for City, with so many long-serving players moving on. Jill Scott (retired), Karen Bardsley (retired) and Keira Walsh (record transfer to Barcelona) have all been at the club since it became a professional outfit in 2014. Georgia Stanway has also said goodbye after seven years, joining Bayern Munich.

    Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Ellen White (retired) and Caroline Weir (Real Madrid) are the other big departures, all key players over the last few seasons.

    There is no doubt that City have brought in a lot of talent to replace those who have left. Australian wonderkid Mary Fowler ranked second on this year's NXGN list; creative midfielder Yui Hasegawa is one of the most joyful footballers in the WSL and Deyna Castellanos' icon status in Venezuela is so great that the government has built a monument of her. She's still only 23 years old.

    They come into a squad that features five players that won the Euros with England this summer, including Chloe Kelly, the young forward who scored the winning goal in the final.

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    The Hopes

    Despite finishing in the top two for seven of the last eight seasons, City have only won the WSL once and that was back in 2016.

    With no Champions League football on their calendar for the coming season, this could be a real chance for them to end that drought. There's little excuse not to put forth a serious challenge, really.

    Five times now they have finished as runners-up to Chelsea, but it's not that they're unable to beat the Blues. Indeed, it was Emma Hayes' side that they defeated in last season's Continental Cup final. It's just about maintaining consistency over the course of the campaign that can match that of the reigning champions.

    That's easier said than done but the club boasts a talented group of players who all want to win trophies - and most of them know what it takes to do so, too.

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    The Fears

    The big question over City this season is whether Taylor can bring this new group of players together quickly enough for them to be a real contender in the league. It's not just that he needs them to gel but he also needs to ensure he puts the team together in a way that it can deal with some of the key departures.

    Walsh's move to Barcelona in particular is a huge hit, with her so crucial to the way this team plays. There is no one quite like the England international and Taylor has admitted City will have to adapt their style "slightly" to deal with her absence.

    Fans have made their concerns about this summer's window known, wondering why so many star players have chosen to move on. With those supporters having grown frustrated with Taylor at times last season, it feels like the coach is really under the microscope this term.

    If ever there was a chance to really prove to the fans that he can lead this team to success, it's now.

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    The Hero

    Chloe Kelly's path to becoming a national hero this summer is a wonderful story.

    The young winger had a sensational first season with Man City, being one of only two players to hit double figures for goals and assists in the WSL in 2020-21. But it ended in devastating fashion as an ACL rupture last May stopped her being able to represent Great Britain at the Olympics.

    It was April of this year when she got back on the pitch and, despite facing a serious race against time to do so, she convinced England head coach Sarina Wiegman that she should be in the squad for the Euros.

    Fast forward to July 31 and it was Kelly running around the Wembley pitch waving her shirt above her head in celebration. She'd just scored an extra time goal that would see the Lionesses defeat Germany and become European champions.

    Now, she returns to her club looking to produce the magic she is capable of on a consistent basis again. When she's on form, no defender in the league can stop her.

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    The Villain

    Real Madrid. For the second year in a row, they've sent City crashing out in Champions League qualifying. This one hurts a little more, too, as it was Weir, who left the club to join the Spaniards this summer, that scored the only goal of the game.

    A club like City expects to be in the Champions League. In fact, they have ambitions to win it. To not even reach the group stage for a second successive season is a huge setback that adds to the pressure on Taylor.

    The big question is, how will this impact the team ahead of the season? It could be a blessing in disguise, relieving some of the load in the club's schedule to allow them to challenge for the title.

    On the other hand, it could be a hit to the confidence of a group that hasn't had a lot of time together. Only time will tell which way it will go - but there's no doubt that City would rather still be in the competition rather than waiting to find out whether being out of it will benefit them.

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    The Player to Watch

    This really feels like Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw's year. The 25-year-old joined City last summer after top-scoring in France with Bordeaux - a team that finished 17 points behind runners-up Lyon and 18 behind champions Paris Saint-Germain.

    In her first season, she rotated a lot with Ellen White in the central striker role, starting just nine league games. But she still managed to score nine goals and, with White retiring, should have the consistency of playing time this term to make an even greater impact.

    What makes that all the more exciting is the service she will receive. Kelly, one of the most creative wingers in the league, will be on her right. On her left will be Lauren Hemp, the electric 22-year-old who was among the WSL's best players last year.

    With Shaw possessing the ability to create chances for herself as well, it's hard to imagine her not thriving this season.