Women's report: United 1 Chelsea 1
Manchester United got their 2020/21 Women’s Super League campaign under way with a deserved 1-1 draw at home to reigning champions Chelsea.
Sam Kerr’s 25th-minute effort looked to have given the Blues victory at Leigh Sports Village in a tight game where United enjoyed much of the possession but the visitors created the better chances.
Kerr in particular spurned a couple of opportunities to put the game to bed either side of half-time, but Casey Stoney’s side fought well to remain in it and Leah Galton tapped home an equaliser with just over 10 minutes left to secure a point – against a talent-packed side which has now lost just twice in 57 WSL fixtures.
Stoney handed a debut to Spanish full-back Ona Batlle, while new Chelsea signing Melanie Leupolz also started, although record buy Pernille Harder had to make do with a place on the bench after her much-publicised arrival from Champions League runners-up Wolfsburg.
It was the first time in over six months that Stoney’s side had walked out at Leigh Sports Village in a competitive game, with the 3-2 win over Everton in February our last WSL outing.
Despite the huge gap between top-flight fixtures – necessitated, of course, by the COVID-19 pandemic – and the quality of the opposition, the Reds put up a strong performance in the opening 20 minutes.
The home side enjoyed much of the ball early, pressing Chelsea in high areas, and could have taken a deserved early lead, had Jane Ross’s speculative effort from the edge of the area been a few inches to the right of Carly Telford’s near post.
But the Blues soon served up a reminder of why they’ve won two of the last three titles – with Australian star striker Kerr sliding home on the goalline to convert Fran Kirby’s teasing cross on 25 minutes, for only her second WSL goal since arriving in January.
After seeing a further effort ruled out for offside, Kerr could have had another moments later when a lapse in concentration from United’s Millie Turner – in her 50th game for the club – played her in, but this time the forward’s radar was a little off, much to the relief of our no.21.
The Australian then forced goalkeeper Mary Earps into a good save after Ji So-Yun’s gorgeous through ball, before Galton headed against the crossbar with United’s best - and last - action of the half.
The beginning of the second period was much a continuation of the opening 45, with Kerr having a chance to add to her opener, but failing to keep a shot from Maren Mjelde’s looping cross down.
But despite the continuing threat of the champions’ no.20, the Reds were still enjoying much of the running, experiencing joy through Batlle and Galton down the left on the break, with Hayley Ladd volleying wide from the latter’s cutback.
The introduction of Jackie Groenen for Kirsty Hanson boosted United’s midfield ranks and almost bore an instant impact, with Carly Telford having to punch Ella Toone’s drive from distance out for a corner.
With further substitutions disrupting the flow of the game, United struggled to muster any concerted pressure on the Chelsea goal and the next convincing chances fell to the Blues, with Earps twice denying substitute Erin Cuthbert as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
United, however, are always threatening on the counter-attack – even after so long without a competitive game - and Groenen broke clear down the right before squaring for Galton to deservedly level the scores, based on the Reds’ encouraging second-half showing.
Harder was brought on to try and force a winner for Emma Hayes’s side, but Cuthbert’s blocked shot in injury-time was the closest we would come to a deciding strike and United could ultimately reflect on a job well done - our first point against one of the 'Big Three' since promotion to the top flight in 2019.
United: Earps; Smith, M.Turner, McManus, Batlle (Okvist 74); Ladd, Zelem (c); Hanson (Groenen 53), Toone, Galton; Ross (James 60).
Subs not used: Ramsey, A. Turner.
Goal: Galton 79
Chelsea: Telford; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson (Carter 80); Leupolz, Ingle, Ji (Cuthbert 58); Kirby, Kerr (England 66), Reiten (Harder 80).
Subs not used: Orman, Blundell, Fleming, Charles, Spence.
Goal: Kerr 25