Manchester City have been left with just five recognised defenders ahead of the new WSL season and face having to quickly recruit or rely on versatility to address the shortage at the back.
Gemma Bonner, Megan Campbell, Aoife Mannion and Abby Dahlkemper have all left City since the end of last season. Bonner has ventured to the United States, while Campbell and Mannion were both released and have joined Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.
USWNT international Dahlkemper is the latest to leave, re-joining former club North Carolina Courage despite signing a two-and-a-half year contract in Manchester seven months ago.
City’s situation has been worsened by Lucy Bronze requiring knee surgery in recent days. The 2020 FIFA best women’s player is not expected to be out for a long time but her absence is a blow and if there are any unforeseen setbacks it leaves the squad even more vulnerable.
As things stand, City can put out a very strong back four, with emerging talent Esme Morgan at right-back, Demi Stokes on the left, and Alex Greenwood partnering Steph Houghton in the middle. But beyond that there are no other first-team defenders for as long as Bronze is out.
Morgan can cover either on the right or centrally, while Greenwood was formerly a left-back who successfully transitioned to the middle last season. There are options, but so few.
Any further injuries will create problems. Houghton is 33 and was nursing an Achilles problem in the closing stages of 2020/21, which suggests it would be naive to think City could survive a full season without players picking up injuries, whether minor or more serious.
There are still two weeks before the WSL transfer window closes, providing opportunity to bring in another couple of bodies for depth. Australia’s Alanna Kennedy, who spent last season in the WSL with Tottenham, is a notable free agent capable of adding necessary depth.
In the past, City have survived defensive shortages by making use of versatile midfielders and forwards in the squad. Canadian forward Janine Beckie has regularly filled in at right-back, while attacking midfielder Georgia Stanway has similarly been called upon.
City did land teenage midfielder Ruby Mace from Arsenal earlier this summer. She is enormously talented and is also capable of playing in defence, but a lack of experience – she turns only 18 in early September – would be a concern if she was to be thrown in too soon.
The big question for City is whether they will have the depth to compete with reigning WSL champions Chelsea, who have well-stocked specialist defensive options at full-back and in the middle. The answer at the moment is no.