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City admit pressure as W-League's hunted

AAP logoAAP 2/11/2016 Emma Kemp

Steph Catley is well aware Melbourne City have targets on their backs this W-League season.

The club captain just hopes the spike in pressure will drive her new-look team to back-to-back titles.

Cashed-up City encounter a vastly different challenge in their second season, starting at the weekend.

This time last year the club's star-studded inaugural squad were standout contenders, however that also came with questions about how such a stacked side would gel on the field.

Now, having set the bar absurdly high, the defending champions face a formidable task to replicate a campaign in which they scored 38 regular-season goals, conceded just four and finished 10 points ahead of nearest rival Canberra United.

Catley admitted there was a strong sense other clubs were fixated on knocking them off their perch.

"There's definitely pressure," Catley said.

"People have mentioned we're the hunted.

"Going into last year there wasn't much because no one knew what to expect.

"Other teams have really amped it up and they've got some incredible internationals in.

"We're very lucky that while we've had some great players go out, we've also had some great players come in."

The loss of mercurial Matildas co-captain Lisa De Vanna and Scottish gun Kim Little leaves a hole in City's front third.

But Welsh midfielder Jess Fishlock's retention is a coup, as is snaring Erika Tymrak on loan from Kansas City and poaching Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams from Canberra United.

Catley had her eye on all teams but named last season's grand final victim Sydney FC as the biggest threat due to their balance and stability.

"Their base of Australian players is so strong," she said.

"They've been together for so long and know each other back to front.

"Playing against them is always difficult no matter what, and if you add internationals on top of that they'll definitely be a team to beat."

The start of the domestic league caps a testing few months for Catley.

The 22-year-old Matildas defender spent the entire Rio Olympics battling a stress fracture in her foot, only to succumb to a hamstring tear early in Australia's quarter-final loss to Brazil.

The issues forced her to cut short her season with US National Women's Soccer League side Orlando Pride to focus on recovery.

She finally played her first minutes last weekend.

"I had to rehab both those things at the same time which was quite difficult," Catley said.

"It's been a long process, but I'm almost there.

"The body is feeling quite good and it's timed nicely in that I'll hopefully be able to get back into W-League quite quickly."

Brisbane Roar kick off the W-League season against long-time rivals Sydney at Spencer Park on Saturday before City open their campaign against Newcastle on Sunday.

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