Is Gareth Taylor the right manager for Man City Women?

One-sided wins aren't fun to watch in general, but in a league that still falls into the category of "polarised" in terms of super-powered teams against overwhelmed opposition, they are often inevitable -- even if commentators are forever telling you that the gap is closing. So when Manchester City (who have never put less than four goals past Leicester City in the Women's Super League) clashed with the Foxes over the weekend, a safe prediction would still have been 4-0 to the hosts... and that's exactly how the match ended.

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Yet for all City's dominance at home, there was a certain sparkle lacking from their football, and the unquenchable je ne sais quoi the top teams manage to cultivate through their star-studded teams remained absent. As Leicester City manager Lydia Bedford remarked in her post match press conference: "I don't think Man City changed a lot other than bringing on more international players."

Even if you refute that that league is so divided between haves and have-nots, you can't deny the gulf in talent between the two starting XIs. Although there are international players in the Leicester team, each and every player in City's match-day squad -- from starters to those who sat on the bench -- is a full international, including four players who currently captain or used to captain their senior national team.

It would be easy for us to devolve into the cliche of women against girls when it comes to the teams at the top playing those further down the table and pyramid, yet for a one-sided match, it would be erroneous to call the Foxes girls in this context. Not only did they enjoy a few bright moments in attack during the first half, but they held a firm enough defensive shape over the first hour and weren't completely out of the game until the hosts were awarded a second-half penalty.

Although the stats don't necessarily flatter City, they tell more of the story of Leicester's shortcomings. The visitors were happy to concede possession and sit behind the ball, not challenging City's passing game. Indeed, it was arguably the weakest performance the Foxes have put in so far this season: with zero points to show for their four matches, they deserved something from previous league outings until last weekend's trip to Manchester.

So why was this convincing win so unconvincing?

Having taken the reins after Nick Cushing's departure in 2020, Gareth Taylor is in his third season of managing Man City in the WSL, yet even with the team stagnating under their previous manager, Taylor hasn't always managed to get his team to sing. Indeed, after what could easily be described as a successful first season, they have slowly begun to slide away from the summit.

When the Citizens convened ahead of the 2021-22 season, the bulk of Taylor's squad -- one that was still being added to -- was returning to England after a summer at the Olympics, vying to scoop a coveted Olympic gold medal amid oppressively humid conditions in Japan. Despite its quality and depth, City was hit with several injuries and looked laboured when the season commenced.

Even though they could still launch attacks, the losses of Ellie Roebuck and Steph Houghton left the team without a commanding presence at the back and the ramshackle defence was usually on a different page to goalkeeper Karima Taieb. The Sky Blues were bleeding goals and languishing at the foot of the table, and were swiftly knocked out of Europe by Real Madrid: finishing second the previous season meant they entered the competition in the second round of Champions League qualifying, yet they couldn't get beyond their Spanish opposition, something that has become something of a theme.

The players that were available to Taylor failed to form a cohesive unit until later in the season when the bones of his starting XI began to move from the treatment table to the pitch and those well-established partnerships could work. The return of Roebuck in March 2022 shored up the defence, City looked far more competent with the ball and they quickly romped up the table.

It wasn't the first time the Citizens had put together such a run over the second-half of the season and was reminiscent of how they galloped up the table after the 2015 World Cup to claim second and secure their first-ever Champions League appearance the following season. Yet where Cushing's team used 2015 as a spring board to roll to the title in 2016, the team galvanized despite a threadbare squad and season-long injury crisis, Taylor's City has gone in a different direction this term. Instead of being able to bring the established players together, the coach has lost key personnel over the summer, with many looking for new challenges and pastures greener.

Making it worse for City fans, many of those former players are flourishing at their new homes: Georgia Stanway has taken to Bayern Munich like a Bavarian to a stein, while Caroline Weir -- seven goals in as many appearances for Real Madrid across Liga F and the Champions League -- is also enjoying a fresh start. While it's normal for players to stagnate after being at the same club for a number of years, Keira Walsh (now at Barcelona) and Stanway had been at City for eight and seven years respectively, there are arguably questions to be raised about why, and how, Taylor struggled to get the best from them.

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With similar questions asked of the coach when he had a handful of American internationals -- defender Abby Dahlkemper, midfielders Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle -- at his disposal during his first season, the wider worry is that Taylor will have the same issues fully harnessing the potential and talent of the squad available to him -- forwards Deyna Castellanos and Mary Fowler, defenders Leila Ouahabi and Laia Alexandri all joined this summer -- this time around as well. Although the team have only played a handful of games since the summer and there are players in the team who aren't just new to City but to WSL, there is a question about why we've yet to see this team's effervescence. Even when the football has been proficient, it hasn't been dazzling as it could have been, and it's clear we have yet to see their very best.

The caveats to all of this is that it is just still so early in the season and players need time to settle into their new surroundings and form promising partnerships, "22 games [in a season] is nothing" by Taylor's own admission and there's little room for mistakes. While it's still safe to think they'll be part of the title race, we're seeing more of the mid-tier teams asking questions of those above them -- take Aston Villa on the first day of the season, when Carla Ward's charges came out on top of a 4-3 result over City.

After the Leicester game, Taylor alluded to the squad being the best available to him to date. "The fact we've got a really strong bench to select from, I've never had that, never had it strong enough in the last two years." But as we're seeing across women's football, it's no longer just about having the best player who can play full-time -- and when you look across the entirety of women's football around the world, that's still a rarity -- but about the coaching. It's about coaches being able to develop their players and understand how to get the best out of them, how to bring an XI together on the pitch so that they make sense and can play to their strengths.

Against Aston Villa, it wasn't just about the Villanesses winning on the day, but about Ward winning in the dugout, just as when City fell to Real Madrid (again) in the Champions League qualifying rounds, it was about Alberto Toril knowing how to get the better of the opposition.

Taylor may yet get his squad singing from the same song-sheet, but with the battle for top three looking to be fiercely contested between Chelsea, Arsenal and City -- and perhaps even Man United and Aston Villa -- he will have only so much time to bring all the pieces together. Whether or not he's the right man for that job remains to be seen.