When the United States women’s national team wrapped up its first camp of the year, Megan Rapinoe described midfielder Sam Mewis as “the best player in our team right now.”
“I think that’s pretty easy to say,” the 35-year-old added.
Considering the USWNT has been the best national team in the world for some time now, winning the last two World Cup titles, it’s no small compliment to be called its best player.
Manchester City fans would not disagree with Rapinoe, either.
Since arriving in England in the summer, Mewis has scored six goals and generally dominated in midfield. One of those goals was a bullet header in November’s Women’s FA Cup final, which was significant in her collecting her first piece of silverware with the club.
The fact she returns to her club this week with an injury, then, is a huge blow. Mewis suffered a knock to her ankle last week and is likely to miss this weekend’s game against West Ham as a result.
However, despite the midfielder’s incredible impact in Manchester, January showed that City can cope without her.
The turn of the year was a particularly important time for the club. Mewis, along with Rose Lavelle, was heading back to the United States for a camp that would see her gone for almost an entire month.
The fixtures she would miss with her club, bar a Continental Cup clash with Chelsea, may not have looked all too difficult on paper, with Ast on Villa and Brighton occupying places in the lower echelons of the table.
But both proved particularly tricky opposition in the opening two weeks of City’s season, with Brighton even taking a point back home from Manchester.
With the Citizens having struggled for consistency at times this term, there was legitimate concern over how big an impact losing their standout performer would have on their results.
Very little, as it transpired.
Villa was hammered 7-0 despite a COVID-19 outbreak that meant head coach Gareth Taylor was among those forced into isolation. On top of that, a number of injuries forced City to name four academy players on the bench who had no previous senior experience.
Many key players remained unavailable for the following week’s game against Brighton but, again, it didn’t show. The final scoreline read 7-1 to City.
Defeat to Chelsea was tough to take, with the Blues winning 4-2 in extra time, but given the circumstances, coupled with the spirited performance put on, it was hardly devastating.
Indeed, whereas January could have hammered home how much City depend on Mewis, instead it illustrated just how adaptable and strong the squad can be in tough times.
“I was really proud,” Taylor said. “Sometimes you find out a lot about people when your back’s against the wall.
“I thought considering the [circumstances] and the changes we had to make in the Chelsea game, which were enforced on us due to players not having trained as much or having enough minutes under their belt. So, they’ve been amazing.”
Mewis’ January went just as well.
While her team excelled in England, she excelled in the States, scoring a hat trick in the USWNT’s first game against Colombia and providing an assist in the second before limping off injured.
No team ever wants to be without its best players, of course. But for City to have shone so much without Mewis and many others is a big confidence boost, particularly after its struggles earlier this season.
With huge games against Arsenal and Manchester United to come in February, and injured personnel working to be back in time, it’s an even bigger positive going forward.
“We come into a decent period of three games before the international break and we want to be there, we want to work as hard as we possibly can in order to be right in the mix [for the title],” Taylor added.
“We’re still in it at the moment, so we want to make sure after these three games, we’re still in it then too.”
January was a reminder of all the other talent City has, particularly in attack. So, now having players like Mewis back as the most important part of the season approaches gives it real reason to get excited about what lies ahead.