PREVIEW: Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final

More than eighty-thousand fans will descend on the streets of Wembley on Sunday, with the famous national stadium hosting the Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final yet again. Public interest in women’s football has soared since the Lionesses’ infamous EUROs win last summer – and that’s ensured that this tantalising fixture will boast a sellout crowd.

It’s Emma Hayes’ Chelsea against Marc Skinner’s Manchester United – and both teams will look to secure the bragging rights while they remain fiercely locked in competition for the league title. United currently sit at the top of the FA Women’s Super League table, but Chelsea trail them by just a point and possess a game in hand.

Will history repeat itself for Chelsea?

Chelsea have done the league double over Marc Skinner’s side though this season, earning a 1-3 win at Leigh Sports Village in November before battling for a narrow 1-0 victory at Kingsmeadow in March. It’s fair to say that Emma Hayes’ side have been plagued by injury throughout the campaign, but they’ve managed incredible results when it truly matters. Making it to the semifinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League is no mean feat, and bowing out to Barcelona is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

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It’s in the FA Cup that Chelsea really shine though. They’ll be looking to make it three consecutive wins, having beaten Arsenal and Manchester City to the trophy in 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively. In fact, they’re the most successful team in the competition over the last decade, with four wins. Emma Hayes will be hoping that history repeats itself once more!

United’s rise from the ruins

Having finished fourth last season, United didn’t make an appearance in Europe this season – though they look set to make their debut in the 2023/24 campaign. The club’s rise over the last five years has been truly remarkable. The Glazers stopped funding the women’s team in 2005, shortly after they took control of the club – but they were reformed in 2018 and went on to win the FA Women’s Championship in their inaugural season.

Under Casey Stoney’s guidance, the Red Devils went on to finish fourth in their first top-flight campaign. However, amid rumours of poor funding, Stoney left the club at the end of the season – with Marc Skinner appointed as her replacement just days before the 2021/22 season began. Skinner led the team to another fourth place finish despite a rocky start to the season, but there was still a considerable five point gap between United and the European spots.

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This season though, Skinner seems to have found the recipe for success. With just two games left to play, they’re top of the WSL table – and are guaranteed to improve on their best finish to a season. Topping that off with silverware at Wembley would make for an incredible campaign, but Chelsea certainly won’t be an easy opposition.

Keep an eye out for…

Sam Kerr – undefeated at Wembley

Having been crowned as the FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year earlier this week, Sam Kerr is expected to lead the line for Chelsea on Sunday. The Australian has never lost at Wembley, despite her first appearance being less than impressive on a personal level. Sunday’s encounter seems to be a match made in heaven for the striker, who has netted seven goals and registered two assists against United in seven appearances. Clinical.

Guro Reiten – the baby-faced assassin

It’d be a huge mistake to ignore the threat that Guro Reiten poses, and some would argue that she deserved to win the FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year award over her aforementioned Chelsea teammate. She certainly knows how to find the back of the net when it matters – with 11 goals and 18 assists across all competitions so far this season, including a super strike against Lyon in the first leg of the club’s UWCL quarterfinal.

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Leah Galton – goals, goals and more goals

Despite turning down the opportunity to link up with the national team on numerous occasions, Leah Galton is arguably one of the country’s most in-form footballers. With ten goals and four assists to her name in the league this season, Galton has certainly found her shooting boots – and she’ll be hoping that they make the trip to Wembley with her.

Ona Batlle – leading from the back

Defenders are often overlooked when we talk about influential players, but it would be criminal not to mention Ona Batlle as one of the key players ahead of this final. The Spaniard has provided nine assists from right-back so far this season, and her attacking presence has led to her being hailed as one of the players of the season.

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The Road to the Final

Both teams entered the competition in the fourth round, owing to their WSL status. Chelsea hosted Liverpool in their first fixture, securing a 3-2 win courtesy of a Sam Kerr triple. Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal were up next, and the Blues managed to win that game by a comfortable two-goal margin. Away trips to Reading and Aston Villa followed, with Chelsea managing 1-3 and 0-1 wins respectively.

United didn’t face top-flight opposition until the semifinals, as they travelled to Sunderland in the fourth round. A narrow win on the road saw them face Durham at home, with a 5-0 thrashing earning a spot in the quarterfinals. They overcame Lewes to set up a dramatic semifinal against Brighton, where they edged out a 3-2 win at Leigh Sports Village to seal their place at Wembley.

What’s happening at Wembley?

Sammy Rowland of Hashtag United is the competition’s top scorer, having bagged a whopping eleven goals – and she’ll place the match ball on the plinth ahead of kickoff. Wembley’s designated fan zone will open at 10:30am, with plenty of activities to keep everyone busy outside the London Designer Outlet.

Ticket holders can also have their photo taken with the FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy between 11:30 and 13:30, with ex-England goalkeeper Carly Telford also in attendance. The trophy will be on display in the Samovar Space on Wembley Way – situated between BOXPARK and the Wembley Stairs.

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Team News

Chelsea have suffered some major injuries this season, and their squad has been rather depleted for months. Thankfully though, players are now beginning to return to fitness – and Emma Hayes has said that ‘everyone is available’ for this final. There’s just one absentee for Manchester United, with Maria Thorisdottir sidelined through a mid-foot injury.

Predicted Lineups

Chelsea: Berger; Carter, Eriksson, Mjelde, Perisset; Ingle, Fleming; Reiten, Cuthbert, Rytting Kaneryd; Kerr

Manchester United: Earps; Blundell, Le Tissier, Turner, Batlle; Zelem, Boe Risa; Galton, Toone, Parris, Russo

Where can I watch?

Kickoff for the Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final is at 14:30 UK time on Sunday, 14 May 2023 at Wembley Stadium. If you can’t attend, the match will be broadcast live on BBC One and BBC iPlayer – or you can read our match report, which will be published seconds after the final whistle.