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“EEveryone doubted us,” says Chloe Kelly. “But we all believed in ourselves. We believed in the group. We believed in our staff. We didn’t for a moment feel sorry for ourselves. Even the games we lost, we think we should have won because we have talent in the squad, no matter how many injuries we had.

The Manchester City striker speaks on the eve of Sunday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley as his side finished third in the Women’s Super League to clinch the final Champions League spot. Having already won the Continental League Cup, it’s impossible not to share his pride at City’s incredible turnaround – and a recovery that reflects its own struggles.

By mid-November, Gareth Taylor’s side had taken just four points from their first seven games, losing four times – as many as in the previous three seasons combined. They have been crippled by injuries, with a host of City’s GB team players sidelined after returning from the Tokyo Olympics, including club captain Steph Houghton, goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck and the Lionesses’ top scorer, Ellen White.

Kelly was also out, having torn a ligament in her right knee on May 5 in the penultimate game of the 2020-21 season. At one point City languished in ninth place with the league title nearly lost as Chelsea and Arsenal galloped ahead, their Champions League hopes dwindling. In this context, a cup double would be a remarkable achievement, but for City, so used to fighting for the biggest prizes, it is not enough.

“The Conti Cup was huge,” says Kelly, who watched from the stands as she made her way back to the pitch. “As a group we went into it with a lot of confidence, based on our performance since the Christmas holidays. It was great to go there with confidence and the girls performed brilliantly, had the right tactics and it was a great day for us – but it just made us want to be even better.

“Being in the FA Cup final, winning the Conti Cup and qualifying for the Champions League is what this club should be doing, and also fighting for the titles. It’s great to be in the Champions League champions next season, but we want to win the WSL, so while we should be happy with what we got this season with a tough start, next season we also have to fight for the league.

Since that 3-1 defeat of Sunday’s opponents Chelsea in the League Cup final, City have welcomed Kelly back. The 24-year-old returned to action in a 2-0 win over West Ham on April 2, coming off the bench in the 59th minute. “I enjoyed every minute back on the pitch,” she said. “And I’m grateful to have as many minutes as I have. Due to an injury, it’s unlikely that I will get as many minutes as I do.

“But I don’t want the season to end now, I’m back on the pitch and it’s a bit sad that the season is ending.”

Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly: ‘Everyone doubted us, but we always believed’ |  Manchester City Women
Manchester City win the Continental League Cup after beating Chelsea. Kelly says City can take “a lot of confidence” from the result ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup showdown. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images

The end of this season, however, is better than the last. Her injury prevented her from taking her likely seat on the plane to Tokyo, and she then had to watch from the sidelines as City struggled. It was “a difficult time,” she says. “Being injured and not being able to help the team in any way made the injury even more difficult. It was just about getting through and ticking every day and having good people around you.

The negative perception of the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] injuries do not help the recovery process, she believes. “I don’t like all the negative aura around the ACL. I feel like sometimes you walk into this rehab with such a negative mindset because everyone talks so negatively about it. have an ACL injury.

“People have overcome this hurt in the past, but the negative stories are the ones that always stick in your head. It was a tough time, but any injury is tough. you talk to [teammate] Esme Morgan, she also had a tough time with her injury, which is a completely different injury from mine.

Kelly spent much of his rehabilitation away from the team, traveling to the United States to work with reconditioning expert Bill Knowles in Philadelphia. “It was really good for me,” she says. “It gave me so much confidence in my movement and just a different side to rehab.

“Focusing on the movements has really benefited me, it’s given me so much confidence. That’s probably the hardest part to get. You really have to have confidence that this area can take some movement and then you get it. pull force.

It was the rehab support that she says helped her reintegrate into the team so easily. “I never had, and I still don’t have, fear. Because I know that I tried so hard and the people around me tried so hard,” she says. “I feel good on the pitch, I feel. I still think I haven’t returned to my best level, but I wasn’t before my injury, I still had so much more to give.

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She now has one last chance to shine with City and make enough post-season to earn a place in Sarina Wiegman’s England squad for this summer’s Euros.

“I’ve hit the ground running pretty well, with my stats too, with the goals and assists I’ve had since coming back. I just want to finish the season strong in the FA Cup and then we’ll see what happens this summer. .

City can take ‘a lot of confidence’ from their loss to Chelsea in the League Cup final. “They won’t be the same Chelsea we played in the Conti Cup, but we’re not the same team as them either. There’s a lot of trust around the group, the football we’re playing at the moment is brilliant and we are all having fun.

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