Man City’s Deyna Castellanos hoping to impact Manchester derby

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The rebirth of Manchester City Women’s team in 2014 coincided with what would be considered a large shake up in women’s football in England. The wheels were already turning with Matt Beard’s multinational Liverpool team, who would go on to win their second successive league title during Man City’s first season in the Women’s Super League.

Nick Cushing, who had taken the reigns ahead of City’s debut season in the top flight, would lead his team to victory in the league cup during their maiden campaign, besting Chelsea in the semifinal before beating Arsenal in the final. (It would also be the first season in which the Gunners failed to win the trophy: they’d won the first three and have since added two more.) The coach, now working with NYCFC, spent his first season and a half finessing his squad, and despite having a few non-Brits in the team, Cushing always professed a home-grown ideal.

When City won their first — and only — league title in 2016, the team did so with just four non-British players — defender Megan Campbell, midfielders Daphne Corboz and Tessel Middag, forward Kosovare Asllani — in their ranks. But far from shocking the league with a near-perfect campaign in which the Sky Blues dropped just four points all season, the title win signaled a firm changing of the guard and an era in which professionalism and better standards were paramount.

Outside of their first season in the WSL, City have only finished lower than second on one occasion: last season, when they claimed third in the league, which was still enough for them to start the 2022-23 campaign with a Champions League clash. Yet life if WSL is getting trickier all the time, not least thanks to the growth of City’s local rivals, Manchester United who currently sit three points above City in the table.

Although Sunday’s clash (7:30 a.m. ET/12.30 p.m. GMT) won’t mark the first Manchester derby or even the first to be played at the Etihad — the men’s stadium played host when the two kicked the 2019-20 season off in front of a crowd of 31,213, which was a record for the Super League at the time — it is a fitting venue for the mounting rivalry between two of the best teams in England. That said, City hold some sense of an edge: they have yet to be beaten in the league by United, and have also not yet squandered a point or even given up a goal at home when the two sides have clashed in the past.

Even if this will be the third game played by the women’s team at the Etihad — after the derby in 2019 and a league cup group game against Everton in 2014 — it will be Gareth Taylor’s first outing as City manager at the men’s home: the first match played at the Etihad of the new era. Gone are the days of the largely homegrown squad lead by Cushing, replaced with a new-look team that pulls in high-rofile stars from around the globe, mixing in diversity of experience and strength. Their signing of Deyna Castellanos, announced at the start of June, encapsulates everything about the new [Taylor] era in Manchester.

Shooting to fame in her teens playing at Florida State at the top level of the U.S. college system, the young Venezuelan forward’s exploits were so great she was even shortlisted for the FIFA BEST award in 2017, ultimately finishing third [in the world]. But far more than a footballer, Deyna has already worked in broadcast journalism for Telemundo during the 2018 and 2019 World Cup and brings an analytical eye to her work on the pitch as well.

That wider view and focus of the bigger picture is arguably what brought the dynamic attacker to Manchester, with the 23-year-old wanting to be challenged in new and different ways. When speaking to ESPN last month, the Venezuela captain conceded it might even sound a little stupid to some, but she can learn and grow from having to play in less than ideal weather, having been somewhat spoiled playing pro football in Spain for the past two seasons.

Manchester City provides the perfect environment for her to be the best she can be and as much as she enjoys the city and her life off the pitch, getting out of her comfort zone has been vital. It has also been a continued theme of Deyna’s career, as she left her home at 17 to play and study in the USA. Thrust into a foreign world, she admits it was a frustrating time: she was unable to communicate with those around her as she only spoke Spanish at the time, although she is happy to point out that to her, “football only speaks one language.” But it was away from the pitch, in her lectures and social situations, where she struggled at first before she got a grip on the language.

Being naturally adaptable, she is an expressive player on the pitch as much as she is shy off it, but Deyna already seems to have settled into her surroundings in Manchester and has managed to get a handle on the physicality of the English league. She also admits she’s never been as fit in her life as she is now, which has further helped her acclimation. The 23-year-old was also keen to highlight how welcoming the team and coaching staff had been to help everyone feel comfortable in their new surroundings, even as one of seven new signings ahead of the 2022-23 season.

Speaking ahead of the Manchester Derby — the local clash has become more and more of a highlight in the WSL calendar as Man United sit above City in the league, with 21 points from eight games to City’s 18 — Deyna spoke of the healthy environment in the team. Even though she spends most of her time with “the Spanish… Vicky [Losada], Laia [Aleixandri], Leila [Ouahabi]” as well as Alex Greenwood, Ellie Roebuck and Alanna Kennedy — whom she cites as one of the biggest jokers in the team — “everybody” is her last word on the topic, hammering home the camaraderie in the group.

Indeed, that togetherness could play a crucial part when the team spar with United at the Etihad on Sunday. United are coming into the match off of the back of three strong performances in the league, including a hearty win at Old Trafford last weekend.

Although Sunday will mark just the third occasion that the Citizens will play at the Etihad, having been away from the men’s stadium since they opened their 2019-20 campaign with a win over their local rivals, there is a great sense of excitement over returning to the 53,000-seat cauldron. As Deyna says, “You always have the pride to see what colour the city is going to be,” and even if the players have friends on the other team, being able to say, “that the city is blue is nicer.”

For the attacker, the path to success for City will be leaning on their way of playing. “I think we just have to follow our philosophy and keep playing the game we play and being confident, and trying not to make mistakes. Taking advantage of the opportunities we are going to have is going to be key,” she told ESPN. “But also, I think it’s just to have our personality and our own style and if we do that very well, we can win the game.”

Three years ago, the derby was decided by a world-class strike from Caroline Weir, who departed the club over the summer. (The Scottish international is now playing at Real Madrid.) Although Deyna has yet to open her league account for City — she did score an 89th minute penalty against Tomiris-Turan in the Champions League earlier in the year — the 23-year-old has more than a few jaw-dropping strikes in her arsenal. The last of which came for her country last month, when she bested Scotland’s Jenna Fife from 45 yards. With United only having given up five goals so far this season (split between Arsenal and Chelsea), the Citizens might just need a similar moment of magic. It may well be Deyna’s chance to shine.

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