Whatever else distinguishes them, the men’s and women’s teams at Manchester City share one thing in common: they have neither of them won a Champions League. Similarly, both went through ignominious home dumpings in the knock-out stages in the last iteration of the competition.
Both of these matches was memorable in its own right. Who could forget the scenes at the Etihad when Pep Guardiola’s side fell victim to the away goals rule after Raheem Sterling’s late goal was ruled out by VAR in their quarter final against Tottenham?
Across the road at the Academy Stadium, the women’s 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid Femenino was memorable in a different way. Holding out for a 1-1 draw in Madrid, a clean sheet would be enough to see them through to the last 16. Instead, Nick Cushing’s outfit slumped to a 2-0 loss, with two first half goals being enough to end their hopes of European success.
On Sunday evening, Cushing and his players have the chance to right the wrongs of that fateful night last season when they come up against Atlético in the third-place play-off in the Women’s International Champions Cup.
Not that it won’t be a tall order. The Atlético team might not read like a Who’s Who of English football in quite the same way Manchester City’s team sheet does, but they have their own talents. Over the summer, World Cup stars Toni Duggan and Sari van Veenendaal joined the club, a club which already boasted Spanish internationals Virginia Torrecilla and Silvia Meseguer.
Even without their new signings, Atlético are an impressive side. Although they come into the Women’s International Champions Cup as newcomers, their notably Spanish style of play - high possession, intricate passing - has seen them pick up three consecutive titles in the Primera Iberdrola, the highest league in Spain.
Where Manchester City can take a positive is in the fact that many of their team spent the summer together training and playing for a side who made it through to the semi-finals of the World Cup. Neither the FA WSL nor the Primera Iberdrola have kicked off at this point so Cushing will be hoping his team are still riding the wave of their exploits in France when the game kicks off in North Carolina on Sunday.
On top of this, it was the athleticism of the North Carolina Courage that undid them in the end on Thursday night. Despite their domination in terms of possession and passing, City could not convert these advantages into shots.
The Courage’s directness won out. Atlético de Madrid Femenino are going to be competing with City for the ball, looking to hold onto it for longer and use their guile on the ball to create chances, both of which will make this a more balanced encounter.
Of course, the stakes in this match are not as high as they are in the Champions League. But at the beginning of a new season, the Manchester City team will want to show that they can overturn the result that saw them fall out of the competition last season.
The third-place play-off will kick off on August 18th at 5:00 p.m. EST at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.