London City Lionesses face Leicester on Sunday as they aim to complete the league double over the Championship league leaders this season.
The Lionesses are the only team to beat Leicester so far this season, when they emphatically won 4-1 against them at Princes Park back in November.
After a goalless draw last weekend, the Lionesses will hope that they can find the same form in front of goal that saw them beat Leicester earlier in the season.
However, it will be a tough fixture for Melissa Phillips’ side, as Leicester have won every game in the Championship since they lost to the Lionesses. Leicester come into this game on the back of a 2-0 win against Coventry United.
Reflecting on the draw last weekend, Lionesses’ Head Coach Melissa Phillips said “It was a hard-fought competition. I think both teams competed and didn't really give an inch on either side. We created a couple of quality chances and we'll look to always improve that, and Leicester presents a uniquely different challenge. We talk a lot about our own performance and setting ourselves up for success and we know what we need to do to go and compete on the day”.
Looking back at the home fixture win against Leicester earlier in the season, Phillips said “At the time the result was very rewarding and very deserved on the day. I felt we truly showed up and were the more competitive team and we executed our game plan at a higher level on the day."
“I think what we're most satisfied with as a team is our growth on and off the pitch and how we've come together and how we've continuously learned throughout the season. We've always picked ourselves back up despite how we feel about a result. We’ve squeaked out some tight results and then I’m really pleased with our form in the new year and how we've grown and come together. We're just going to continue to bring that into each new match”.
With the Lionesses’ remaining three fixtures this season being against Leicester, Chelsea (Vitality Women’s FA Cup) and Liverpool, what does Phillips think the Lionesses can learn from playing against top opposition?
“I think it’s what we learn about ourselves individually and what we learn about ourselves as a team when you face higher level competitions and quality opponents such as Chelsea.
“It’s been so exciting our Conti Cup and our FA Cup draws because that's our aspiration; to be at the next level and to be in the Super League. So, we have to measure ourselves against those top teams and see where do we fall short? What do we need to work on? Where do we need to grow as a group and individually? We're always learning about ourselves from those experiences and it's just another opportunity for us to grow and continue coming together as a team”.
Speaking to Lionesses’ No. 7 Alli Murphy about the mood in the camp after the draw with Charlton at the weekend, she commented “We always joke that Wednesday's kind of our new week because we finish out Sunday with recovery. But coming in on Monday after the game, obviously we're disappointed just to squeak out a draw, but I think everyone's really motivated and we know we had a good performance against Leicester last time."
“So, we have something to live up to and I think we're up for that challenge and we want to do it again. We won’t make this easy on them. We want to give them a run for their money. I think we were a little bit underestimated last time, and we came out strong and that definitely won't happen this time, but we're ready to go”.
Discussing her first season in the Championship with the Lionesses, Murphy said “I've learned a lot. At the start I was playing in midfield and now I'm playing at full-back. You just kind of start to learn and figure out where you fit with this kind of style."
“I think every game is competitive which I love, just because the team is sitting more at the bottom of the table doesn't mean you can take a week off and take it easy. Every team is going to have a game plan ready to go that they're executing to the best of their ability. You got to solve how to break them down. Where's our outlets? How are we getting by them? How are we going to get a goal? Every week’s a challenge and I thrive in that kind of environment”.
“I think any time you have some experience, it's a good boost. You get a little bit more feel of what some of the players you've gone against and their tendencies. I think it'll put myself personally in a good place to be ready for the next season, but I also trust that Melissa will have us ready to go for whatever we need to do. She’s probably got a plan already in her mind, like this is what you're going to do and this how you're going to get better.
“I’m going to keep to that and just keep growing from here because we still want to push, we want to be in that top league, and I think that's always the goal and I'm sure we'll be ready for it”.
Looking back at the 4-1 win against Leicester earlier in the season, Murphy said “I just remember going into that game. The locker room was ready. The music was going. It was the first time we were completely ready as a team. We were fighting for each other."
“Everyone was ready to compete, and I just remember that they scored first and we're all like not again, our seasons been kind of rough. And then when Atlanta went and pulled one back, I remember looking around and I'm telling everybody as we're all celebrating, we can do this. We’ve got them, we can score against this team, we can break them down and then we put two in real fast, and I just remember looking around and I just told them listen, we're not losing this game."
“You could just see that all over the field, no one wanted to lose and that was just our first big team performance. I think we've carried that throughout the season, and we've just grown since then massively and I think it shows with our results."
“Belief is a big concept. Belief in each other, belief in the person you're working with. We were a new team, everyone was getting to know each other, last year they had in and out managers. I think that was the first game you saw that we're ready. We believe in what we're doing.
“We believe in what Melissa wants from us. Let's go show what we really have. We had proved what we had been doing out on the training pitch. We hadn't shown it yet in a Sunday match. Here's who we are, don't take us for granted. We're in this”.
Looking ahead to the challenging fixtures over the next month, Murphy said “I think it's just awesome. I mean any time I can call home and say hey I'm playing Arsenal, I’m playing Leicester, I’m playing Liverpool and I’m playing Chelsea. That's just such a cool feeling because I just grew up watching them as a kid."
“I love the competition and I want to see personally for myself and for us as a team, how do we stack up against those teams? Because that's the level we want to be at. So, where are we? How close are we? What do we need to do better? What do we need to work on? And even for myself that whole game is, how am I going up against these top-level players? Where can I be better? I just think it's an exciting time. It's going to be a fun end of the season, but I also think we're ready for it”.
You can follow all the build-up to Sunday’s game plus the live match updates via the London City Lionesses Twitter feed and watch the game live on the FA Player.