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Capital’s big guns in cup draw drama

Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea are joined by Championship side London City Lionesses in same League Cup group

04 September, 2020 — By Steve Barnett

Emma Hayes celebrates her side’s 2-0 win against Manchester City in the Women’s Community Shield last weekend. Photo: Eddie Keogh for The FA

THE draw for the first round of the 2020/21 FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup produced a line-up that’s sure to spark plenty of local interest.

As if having two north London rivals in the same group wasn’t already mouthwatering enough, Tuesday’s match-making also threw in a Camden-born coach at the top of her game, and a chairwoman who enhanced her leadership skills by running one of the borough’s leading youth football clubs.

Group B will see Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and London City Lionesses battle it out for a place in the knockout stages.

The tournament has increased from four to six groups this year, with the winners of each progressing to the quarter-finals, alongside the two best runners-up.

Cup holders Chelsea, managed by former Parliament Hill School pupil Emma Hayes, will be favourites to win not only the group, but the competition outright – especially after beating the Gunners 2-1 in last season’s final.

Meanwhile, the Lionesses will be eager to prove that they are not there just to make up the numbers.

But however loud they roar, the Championship side know that on paper they will be the underdogs against their capital rivals from the Women’s Super League. Chairwoman Diane Culligan, who also helps run Hampstead FC, insists that the game isn’t played on paper.

“I took a sharp intake of breath when the draw was made,” she said. “It’s going to be tough, but we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”

And reflecting on the added interest that the group holds for fans from Camden and Islington, Diane continued: “It’s a real opportunity to show the influence that the local areas have on women’s football.

London City Lionesses chairwoman Diane Culligan

“Obviously you’ve got Arsenal, and at Chelsea you’ve got Emma who, like myself, is embedded in what’s going on in the two boroughs. We’ve been around a long time, and both still have deep roots in Camden.”

While the fixtures are yet to be finalised, the competition is set to kick off in early October.

Supporters won’t have to wait until then for some action as the WSL and FA Championship returns this weekend.

Arsenal welcome Reading to Meadow Park on Sunday in their opening match, with head coach Joe Montemurro expecting it to be a “very difficult season”.

His side finished third in the WSL last season, behind champions Chelsea and runners-up Manchester City – who have both significantly strengthened their squads over the summer.

Chelsea signed forward Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg for a fee in excess of £250,000 this week, while in January they also invested heavily by bringing in Australia striker Sam Kerr.

City, meanwhile, bolstered their squad by signing England internationals Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood.

Montemurro said: “There are some very, very good players that have joined some good clubs, but this works hand in hand with the growth of the clubs themselves, and the importance their women’s teams have as part of the holistic growth of an organisation and the brand.

“I think that’s working hand in hand, so obviously the players are better, the teams are better, [and there are] also better staff and better coaches.

“Obviously when you see the big names that are coming you think ‘OK they are obviously an organisation that can work within those means’, and you have to accept it.”

Chelsea travel to Manchester United in their opening game on Sunday, while Tottenham host West Ham. In the Championship London City Lionesses will entertain Sheffield United.

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