Chloe Kelly could get chance to revive Man City career with PSG waiting in the wings

Chloe Kelly replaced Bunny Shaw against West Ham
Chloe Kelly replaced Bunny Shaw against West Ham -Credit:Photo by Matt McNulty/Getty Images

As Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw hobbled down the tunnel at the Joie Stadium on Sunday afternoon, it was hard to shake the feeling that the striker was carrying Manchester City’s title hopes with her.

The Jamaica international had scored twice in a 21-minute first-half spell to put the Blues into cruise control against West Ham United. In doing so, she became the first player in Women’s Super League (WSL) history to register a goal involvement in 10 consecutive games.

It was yet another milestone feat to add to Shaw’s ever-growing list of impressive accolades. It is little surprise then that the sight of her on crutches at the full-time whistle, her foot in a protective boot, prompted some trepidation among those of a City persuasion.

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Manager Gareth Taylor alleviated some of that anxiety with his post-match comments: "She's on crutches, which looks bad, but most of the players end up being offloaded in that situation. We'll just have to assess it. If it's more serious than we anticipate, then we'll deal with it."

Unfortunately for City, it looks as if their nightmare scenario has been realised, with the Daily Mail reporting on Tuesday that the striker is set to miss the rest of the season with a broken foot.

And dealing with a potential Shaw-shaped hole is easier said than done. The Jamaican currently averages a goal every 66 minutes and has an eight-goal advantage over her peers in the race for the Golden Boot.

She is the player City can least afford to lose and yet Chloe Kelly, her replacement on Sunday afternoon, is one of the most coveted forwards in all of Europe. The England international has has registered eight goals and four assists in all competitions this term but has been been left somewhat out in the cold in recent months.

Once a mainstay in City’s frontline, Kelly hasn’t started any of the Blues' last five games. She is out of contract in 2025, with her decision to join a new sports management agency this month being viewed in some quarters as a prelude to a departure this summer.

Indeed, if she does opt to go in search of a new challenge at the end of the season, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) looks to be her most likely destination, with the Daily Mail reporting the French giants are prepared to make her the highest-paid women's player on the continent. At 26, she should be approaching the peak of her powers and yet her influence at City has noticeably waned since the turn of the year - a set of circumstances that hardly look likely to incentivise the winger to sign a new deal.

“It's just basically we have good players," Taylor said last month when quizzed on his decision to drop Kelly from the starting lineup. "We put Mary (Fowler) into the FA Cup game, she scores. Mary's a very good player. She started the first eight or nine games this season for us. Of course, the demands are really high of what we ask for, in kind of goals and assists from those players, without it being all about that. But Mary has taken her opportunity and now what Chloe has to do is work hard every day in training to be ready."

Chloe Kelly runs away from goal with her arms out celebrating
Chloe Kelly celebrates scoring against Leicester City -Credit:Plumb Images

The City boss continued: "I think that's the main thing, to be ready, and when she gets the opportunities, and today if we don't concede maybe she gets an opportunity, other times maybe not. But regardless, the levels have to be good and that's the same for all of the players and I think Jess (Park) is probably a case in point with that one, her attitude and her enthusiasm and her level of training performance was very good whether she played or not. I think that's a big plus for her."

It is unusual, particularly in the women’s game, for a manager to so plainly make reference to a player’s attitude. Kelly has repeatedly proven herself to be a superstar for both club and country in recent years and yet Taylor has shown City’s No. 9 is not beyond reproach. And the Blues boss has undeniably been vindicated for his decision to relegate the England forward to a role on the bench, with his team currently playing some of the most attractive football in the top flight.

Still, Kelly's talent and pedigree should not be underestimated. The 26-year-old is the scorer of the biggest goal in the Lionesses' history: an extra-time winner against Germany in the 2022 European Championship final. She has shown her ability to quieten the outside noise when the din threatens to overwhelm, scoring the decisive penalty against Nigeria at last summer's Women's World Cup.

And, while she didn't get on the scoresheet against the Hammers, she did show flashes of quality, most notably when her exquisite dinked pass helped penetrate the visitors' back line in the build up to City's fourth goal of the afternoon. "I thought Chloe Kelly came onto the pitch and did really well in that position," Taylor said after Sunday's game. "She put them under a lot of pressure and created some good opportunities."

Certainly, if Shaw's injury does prove to be worse than first feared, City will need Kelly at her best if they are to yield their first WSL title in eight years this term. The forward has shown time and time again that she is made for the big occasion, now she might just get the chance to rise to it.