It is a decade since England’s sole triumph in UEFA women’s club competition – when Arsenal claimed the title – but Manchester City are well-placed to end that wait in what is their debut season.
Having seen off Brøndby in the UEFA Women’s Champions League round of 16, City – who won their first English title last year unbeaten – visit another Danish team in Fortuna Hjørring in Thursday’s quarter-final first leg. Two of the players behind their success, England defenders Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze, speak to UEFA.com about the tie, in which new signing Carli Lloyd looks set to feature.
UEFA.com: What do you think of the tie with Fortuna?
Steph Houghton: We know it’s going to be tough. We’ve got the away leg first, and we know when you get to this level of the Champions League it’s all about performing on the day and performing over two legs. For us to go away first and hopefully nick a goal and be strong defensively, that’s what we need to do; and when we’re at home we can go and express ourselves and play our normal game.
Lucy Bronze: I think it’s a good tie. Considering we’re coming off the back of our off-season it would have been hard to play against Lyon or Wolfsburg, as they’re ranked the highest – they made the final last year. But Fortuna are still a good team – the team we played before, Brøndby, are in the same league and they’re similar.
UEFA.com: How are you looking forward to playing with Carli Lloyd?
Bronze: At the end of the day, she’s the Best FIFA Women’s Player winner, she scored a hat-trick [in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final] she’s the ultimate. She’s up there, she’s shown why she’s up there, and [it’s great] to play alongside someone who’s a very professional player, and a very professional person off the pitch from what I’ve heard and seen.
That’s what we are at City, and we can follow and learn from how she is as a player and a person. It will be a lot of help for myself and the other girls, the younger girls especially. They’ll see how you can get to where she is now. She’ll bring so much more to our team, off and on the pitch. People will say she’s going to score goals, do this, that etc., which hopefully she does, but her whole mentality will have a big impact on the English girls especially and on the team as a whole. It really brings us up another level.
UEFA.com: How has your experience at Manchester City developed you as a player?
Houghton: The main reason I moved here was to be able to be on the ball every day, to get that top-quality coaching. And at that moment when I transitioned from Arsenal to Manchester City, I hadn’t really nailed down a position – I was playing a little bit in midfield, a little bit in defence, and as soon as I went to Man. City it was like: right, OK, you’re going to be centre-half.
I feel over the last three, four years, I’ve really improved as a centre-half; defensively I feel a lot more comfortable. With the ball is how we like to play, and that brings out my strengths. And I think as the season goes on, and I’m getting a little bit older and a little bit more experienced, I feel as though I can bring out my leadership and how I am as a player. I’m enjoying being tested against the best strikers in the Champions League and with my country.
Bronze: The professional set-up, what we have in terms of facilities and staff, has been talked about quite a lot, but it really is the real deal. It changes the way you see your life and live your life. You’re in early, eating your breakfast, you’re eating right, you’re training right, you’re doing it all. There are no excuses, no shortcuts.
UEFA.com: Can City win the Champions League in their debut season?
Bronze: Can they? Yes, I think we can. It’s definitely possible, I wouldn’t say it was impossible. On our day we could potentially beat any team. Having said that, we haven’t played against a lot of the teams left in the Champions League. I think we’ve only played against one or two of them in friendlies.
It’s new territory for us and we don’t want to be overconfident, but at the same time we do believe in ourselves, we believe in the way we play and in the players we have. The majority of the England team play for City and we’ve got other really good internationals – everyone’s playing at some sort of international level. We’ve got a very strong chance, and I honestly believe that on our day we can compete and potentially beat any team. We’ll just have to see on the day.