57 mins: Going two goals up in five minutes presents problems for both teams. Clearly you’d prefer to have City’s problems than Fiorentina’s, but there’s a noticeable lack of intensity in their game at the moment, a preference to keep the ball and move it around in pretty triangles rather than risk possession by threatening the Fiorentina penalty area.
54 mins: Bronze’s cross into the box ends with White, Cordia and the ball all ending up on the turf six yards out. It’s cleared to Stanway, whose 25-yarder clears the bar.
51 mins: Nearly an away goal! Clelland plays Thogersen through, and she turns out to be really very fast, sprinting into the right side of the penalty area, leaving Hemp trailing in her wake, before shooting across goal and just wide of the far post!
49 mins: This amount of time into the first half City had scored two. This time they have nothing more than Stanway’s blocked shot, from just inside the 18-yard line.
The players are back out and will be ready for more, as soon as City break their pre-half huddle. Clelland is coming on for Baldi, probably the result of that nasty fall just before half-time.
Half time: Manchester City 2-0 Fiorentina
45+2 mins: Time for a break, and City still hold the two-goal lead they roared into within five minutes.
45 mins: A lovely touch by Weir on the edge of the box, but then the ball runs to Hemp, who stumbles.
44 mins: Houghton is on the ground and clutching a left ankle, after challenging Baldi for a header and landing awkwardly. The Italian is also hurt, so it’s all physios on deck.
42 mins: The free kick bounces through the penalty area and out of play for a goal kick. Still, a much better few minutes for the visitors.
41 mins: Yellow card! Vigilucci is brought down by Dahlkemper on Fiorentina’s right, and the City player is booked for it.
40 mins: Fiorentina get the ball to the edge of City’s area, where Baldi goes over Bronze’s foot. The referee is unimpressed,
37 mins: City hog the ball. They move it left, threaten to put it into the box, then decide against it and pass back to the defensive line.
34 mins: How did that not go in? Kelly sends in another phenomenal cross, which dips over White and bounces to Hemp, four yards from goal, who somehow contrives to chest it across goal and out of play!
31 mins: Sabatino comes deep into her own half to nick the ball, but then falls to the floor for no obvious reason beyond a shameless attempt to win a free-kick, the ball rolls out of play, and she climbs to her feet waving an apology to teammates and referee for her miserable attempt at shithousery.
28 mins: Another dangerous Kelly cross, but this one is cut out by Quinn.
23 mins: So nearly a third! Stanway’s low cross from the right flies across goal, and Hemp reaches it at the far post and pokes in a shot that hits the keeper! And it’s not over there: the ball is semi-cleared, comes back in, Schroffenegger fluffs a routine catch sending the ball straight to White, who shoots into the keeper, the ball then looping up to Hemp, who shoots into the side netting!
21 mins: Fiorentina win a corner! Baldi’s cross is headed clear, but the ball is returned to her and when she crosses again, Roebuck comes out to catch it on the bounce.
18 mins: The game has settled into some kind of sanity now, after the chaos of those first few minutes. City continue to dominate, though. There are no possession stats, which is just as well for Fiorentina’s self-esteem.
15 mins: Greenwood fouls Vigilucci, allowing the visitors a bit of a breather, and even, for a few moments, possession in City’s half.
13 mins: Fiorentina are entirely unable to contain Kelly on the right, and she in particular is looking excellent. As I type that, she blasts a shot high from 20 yards or so.
10 mins: City go close again! Kelly crosses brilliantly from the right again, and White flicks a near-post header over the bar.
7 mins: A double save from Schroffenegger! First Kelly’s shot is beaten away, and then she crosses to Weir, whose header is palmed round the post.
6 mins: City attack but don’t score! A long ball through to Weir bounces just beyond her, and the Fiorentina goalkeeper, the unfortunately-named-for-anyone-typing-in-a-hurry Schroffenegger, really should have caught rather than punching. That allows City to stay on the attack, at least until Stanway shoots high from 23 yards.
GOAL! Manchester City 2-0 Fiorentina (White, 4 mins)
This could get messy! This time the attack goes down the left, and Hemp crosses low to Ellen White, on the near corner of the six-yard box, who shoots high inside the near post!
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Fiorentina (Hemp, 2 mins)
Well that didn’t take long! One attack, one header, one goal for City, as Kelly is played down the right, goes past Adami way too easily, and sends in an excellent cross that Lauren Hemp, running infield from the left, heads back across goal and into the corner!
Still no sign of the teams, with only 90 seconds to go before they are supposed to kick off.
Gareth Taylor, the Manchester City head coach, has a pre-match chat:
We expect it to be difficult. We expect them to manage the game properly and make it difficult for us. As long as we remain calm, we always feel confident we can score goals, we’ve been scoring freely recently, and hopefully we can go to Italy with a couple of goals. We know it’s incredibly tough to break the cycle Lyon have put together. There’s a lot of very good teams in there. We’re one of them. Cup competitions are difficult because it’s hard to get second chances. We have to take it game by game and that starts tonight.
The players have been warming up. Of the many mysteries about football, why more teams don’t wear Fiorentina-style purple might not be the very greatest, but it remains extremely puzzling.
The teams are in, and here are those teams:
Manchester City: Roebuck, Bronze, Houghton, Dahlkemper, Greenwood, Coombs, Weir, Stanway, Kelly, Hemp, White.
Fiorentina: Schroffenegger, Cordia, Quinn, Adami, Thogersen, Vigilucci, Neto, Middag, Zanoli, Sabatino, Baldi.
Sadly, Manchester City women are not a patch on their all-conquering men’s team: if you exclude defeats after extra time and/or with the aid of penalties, they were beaten as recently as last October, just 17 games ago. Failures! Since the start of December their results at 90 minutes have been: 3-0, 2-1, 2-1, 3-0, 7-0, 2-2 (lost 4-2 aet), 7-1, 4-0, 2-1, 3-0 and 4-0, an 11-game aggregate score of 39-6. Losers! They are second in the WSL table, trailing Chelsea – the last team to beat them in 90 minutes – by two points, with a home game against the leaders to come next month.
Fiorentina meanwhile are fifth in the women’s Serie A table, and lost at local rivals and near-namesakes Florentia at the weekend, but in recent years only Juventus have outperformed them domestically. In Europe, though, they keep being tonked by English sides: 6-0 on aggregate by Arsenal in last season’s Champions League, and 7-0 by Chelsea the year before. Their coach, Antonio Cincotta, says it’s “a historic moment” for his team to reach the Champions League round of 16 for the third year in succession, but admits his team face a “massive struggle” to avoid another savaging at English hands. Do they have any hope at all? That’s what we’re about to find out!
Here’s Louise Quinn, Fiorentina’s Irish defender, on tonight’s challenge: