Chelsea 1 Manchester United Women 0
Manchester United Women fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat against Chelsea in a top-of-the-table clash in the WSL on Sunday afternoon.
United came into the game on the back of an 11-match unbeaten run, having not tasted defeat since the reverse fixture against Chelsea back in November, and started this meeting in confident mood.
However, Chelsea grew into the contest, and took the lead through Sam Kerr’s lobbed finish over Mary Earps after 23 minutes, and that proved to be enough to separate the sides come the end of the 90 minutes.
The Reds had chances to equalise in both halves – perhaps most notably through Alessia Russo 10 minutes before half-time – but it ultimately wasn’t to be for Marc Skinner’s side at Kingsmeadow.
United started the first half encouragingly and looked particularly at home in the opening 10 minutes.
Marc Skinner’s team enjoyed plenty of early possession, and threatened to find an almost instant opener. Leah Galton crossed low from the left inside four minutes, and in-form forward Alessia Russo was just beaten to the ball by Chelsea defender Kadeisha Buchanan.
Despite United’s territorial edge, the home side had the first clear sight of goal nine minutes in, when Sam Kerr was quick to react to a loose ball in midfield and she muscled her way through into the area, where she shot straight at Mary Earps.
The Australia international went through again three minutes later, courtesy of Jessie Fleming’s defence-splitting pass, but she was again kept at bay by another impressive Earps stop, this time made with her feet.
It was a case of third time lucky for Kerr, who put Chelsea in front after 23 minutes. Lauren James’ curling ball down the right side of the box matched the run of the home side's no.20, who brought the ball down on her chest and lobbed over Earps to give the Blues the lead.
United regrouped well and almost had an immediate reply from Ella Toone, whose strike across goal was just wide, before penalty appeals from Ona Batlle and Nikita Parris were waved away after the half-hour mark.
Russo tested Ann-Katrin Berger for the first time ten minutes before the interval, turning well from Toone’s pass and firing straight at the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Katie Zelem looked to have teed up Millie Turner to head home from her free-kick delivery minutes later, but the defender couldn’t apply a strong enough touch to turn it towards Berger’s goal, as we went in behind at half-time.
It was a similarly cagey start to the second half with the hosts again having the first effort on goal. Kerr was the target of a Millie Bright ball over the top, and the Chelsea forward opened up her body in search of the far corner, but she placed her shot just wide.
The Reds kept up the pressure in search of an equaliser, and Parris was unfortunate on the hour mark when her clever piece of skill to bring the ball down on the edge of the box only resulted in her shot being blocked.
Russo experienced similar frustration moments later, after she was found in the box by Toone’s pass, before Leah Galton raced into space to shoot, but couldn’t wrap her foot around the ball to divert it back across goal.
At the other end, Kerr continued to carry a threat for the hosts, running from one side of the box to the other to unleash a shot that was blocked, and Earps was then quick to smother her heavy touch in front of goal.
Martha Thomas and Rachel Williams were introduced for the Reds as we looked to stage a late rally, and the former saw a cross roll agonisingly in front of goal within moments of her arrival with Berger mopping up any threat of danger.
Another change saw Aoife Mannion emerging from the bench for her first appearance in the WSL since last March – her arrival coming shortly after Zelem struck a free-kick straight at Berger.
Mannion crossed dangerously for Russo in one of her first acts, but our no.23’s header across goal couldn’t find a team-mate. Zelem was almost found in a similar position in second-half stoppage time, but she could not control the ball as the Reds were unable to pull a goal back in the capital.
Chelsea: Berger; Buchanan, Bright, Carter; Perisset, Fleming (Eriksson, 75), Ingle, Leupolz, Charles (Mjelde, 90); James (Rytting Kaneryd, 61), Kerr.
Unused substitutes: Musovic, Abdullina, Cankovic.
Goals: Kerr, 23.
United: Earps; Batlle, Le Tissier, Turner, Blundell; Ladd (Garcia, 90), Zelem; Parris (Mannion, 82), Toone (Williams, 71), Galton (Thomas, 71); Russo.
Unused substitutes: Baggaley, Thorisdottir, Boe Risa, Naalsund, Cascarino.