Almost eighty-thousand fans descended on the streets of Wembley on Sunday, as Chelsea prepared to face Manchester United in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final. Chelsea looked to lift the silverware for the third consecutive year, while United would hope to take home the trophy on their first appearance at Wembley since reforming in 2018.
Sam Kerr would look to maintain her unbeaten record under the arch – and add to her impressive tally of seven goals in seven appearances against United. However, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo certainly have a knack for finding the back of the net at the National Stadium – a trend they’d look to continue.
CHE: Berger; Charles, Eriksson, Mjelde, Perisset; Leupolz, Cuthbert, Fleming; Reiten, Kerr, James
MUN: Earps; Blundell, Le Tissier, Turner, Batlle; Toone, Ladd, Zelem; Galton, Russo, Parris
United took a very early lead – with just twenty seconds on the clock, only for the goal to be chalked off for offside. Ona Batlle’s ball down the right flank picked out Alessia Russo, who in turn found Ella Toone. She then sent a lovely cross towards the centre of the box that was tidily slotted home by Leah Galton, but the United fans’ excitement was short-lived.
Five minutes later, it looked as if Marc Skinner’s side were to take the lead (again), as Leah Galton fed Nikita Parris with a beautiful through ball – but a deflection took her wide, and the chance came to an end. United had certainly been the better side throughout the opening exchanges, exposing gaping holes in the Chelsea midfield.
Sam Kerr played a well-timed ball out to Lauren James on the left flank, but there appeared to be a moment of confusion between the ex-United winger and Guro Reiten – and ultimately Ona Batlle was able to shield the ball out for a goal-kick.
An error in midfield allowed Leah Galton to surge towards goal, with the ball eventually finding Ella Toone on the left side of the box. She laid it off to Nikita Parris, though her strike was held well by Ann-Katrin Berger. Chelsea has seemed far from their clinical best throughout the opening fifteen minutes.
A weaving run from Erin Cuthbert allowed her to dance through midfield before picking out Lauren James on the opposite flank, and the winger eventually earned a free-kick on the byline after forcing a foul from Hannah Blundell. Eve Perisset’s delivery was nodded wide by Eriksson though, and United regained possession.
As the game approached the thirty-minute mark, it seemed to have settled down – with neither side really able to find a breakthrough. Chelsea had looked to play in Sam Kerr with long balls over the top on numerous occasions, but United ‘keeper Mary Earps and the young Maya Le Tissier proved to be a formidable defensive partnership.
A free-kick into the box offered United a great opportunity to take the lead, but Maya Le Tissier tangled with Magdalena Eriksson inside the area – and Millie Turner’s deflected strike was pushed away well by Ann-Katrin Berger with a fine fingertip save.
With less than ten minutes remaining before half-time, Leah Galton looked destined to slot Alessia Russo’s cross home at the far post, but a crucial intervention from Maren Mjelde saw the ball sent well over the crossbar.
After great work from Sam Kerr on the right wing that came to nothing, Lauren James managed to get on the end of a fabulous ball into the box. Mary Earps was able to palm her headed effort onto the crossbar though to deny the ex-United youngster the opener.
Nikita Parris felt she should have been awarded a penalty deep in stoppage time, after she was hauled to the ground by Niamh Charles – but referee Emily Heaslip chose to only award a free-kick as the contact was outside the area. Katie Zelem’s delivery was met by the head of Millie Turner, but the defender could only direct her header over the horizontal.
Despite a promising start for United and a flurry of chances throughout the half, there was nothing to separate the two sides at the interval. Leah Galton’s early disallowed goal could have set the tone for the match after just twenty seconds, but Chelsea seemed to grow into the game after a shaky start.
Breaking through the Chelsea backline from a long ball played over the top, Alessia Russo attempted to open the scoring with a spectacular strike from outside the box – Ann-Katrin Berger was able to hold her effort though.
Leah Galton looked to have got the better of Eve Perisset on the right flank, outmuscling the French defender before working a shot on goal. Ann-Katrin Berger made the save at the near post though, and United certainly weren’t going to ease the pressure.
Ona Batlle was hauled to the ground on the halfway line, but play was allowed to continue as United surged forwards to find the opener. Nikita Parris’ cross was ultimately headed behind for a corner by Eve Perisset – and Katie Zelem’s delivery came to nothing. Emma Hayes was the first manager to introduce changes, as Melanie Leupolz and Jessie Fleming made way for Sophie Ingle and Pernille Harder.
Chelsea spurned a great opportunity with just over thirty minutes to play. A long ball over the top found Sam Kerr – with the help of a misplaced header by Ona Batlle. The Australian opted to square to Pernille Harder, though her tame effort was dealt with well by Mary Earps. Shortly after, Nikita Parris was replaced by Rachel Williams.
Unbelievably, Emma Hayes’ side squandered the best chance of the match in the 66th minute. Pernille Harder was played through on goal with a beautiful through ball, but her attempt on goal was flicked away by Mary Earps – and Ona Batlle was well placed to clear the danger. The Spaniard had been as impressive as ever on the right side of defence, and had also been one of United’s most influential attacking players throughout the match.
The Blues finally took the lead two minutes later though – and it was Pernille Harder at the heart of the action once more. Breaking free on the right flank, she opted to play the ball across the face of goal to Sam Kerr, who duly slotted home to continue her fine run of goalscoring form against Manchester United. Marc Skinner’s side had just twenty minutes to find a reply, as Emma Hayes introduced defensive reinforcements in the form of Jess Carter.
Rather than upping the ante of their attacks, United seemed to switch off after Sam Kerr’s strike. Lauren James did well to keep the ball in play on the left flank, before laying it back to Eve Perisset. She then found Ingle, who fired a ball over the top to Kerr arriving at the back post – but the Australian wasn’t able to bag a brace.
United won a free-kick in a dangerous area as Erin Cuthbert hauled Rachel Williams to the ground. Katie Zelem’s delivery curled straight into the grateful hands of Ann-Katrin Berger. Time was rapidly running out for the Red Devils, who introduced Aoife Mannion and Lucia Garcia for Ella Toone and Hannah Blundell.
Chelsea could have doubled their advantage with ten minutes left to play, as Sam Kerr unselfishly laid the ball off to Sophie Ingle inside the area – but the Welsh midfielder blazed her effort well over the crossbar without really threatening Mary Earps at all.
There could have been late drama as Batlle did well to keep the ball in play on the right flank, driving along the byline before finding Alessia Russo. The forward’s flick on caught Rachel Williams off guard, and she wasn’t ready to strike – with the chance coming to an end.
The Blues looked to shut up shop and ensure they didn’t concede in the final five minutes, as Emma Hayes opted to replace Lauren James with Kadeisha Buchanan. They’d have to hold out for six additional minutes of added time too – owing to the numerous stoppages throughout the half. Martha Thomas replaced Hayley Ladd for the final moments of the game, as Marc Skinner’s desperation for a goal grew increasingly.
Leah Galton’s perseverance on the left flank earned the Red Devils a corner – and one last chance to take the game to extra time. Mary Earps ventured up the pitch, but the chance came to nothing. It looked as if they’d draw level in the final seconds though, as a goal-line scramble prompted by Lucia Garcia’s cross from the right flank left Ann-Katrin Berger on the floor.
Despite the best efforts of Marc Skinner’s Manchester United, it was Chelsea that emerged victorious under the Wembley Arch. Emma Hayes’ side have certainly had setbacks to overcome this season, and after a painful semifinal elimination in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, they ran the very real risk of finishing the season without silverware. That won’t be the case though – and they’ll now look to do the double over Manchester United by beating them to the FA Women’s Super League trophy too.
Attendance: 77,390 – new world record for a domestic women’s fixture
Vitality Player of the Match: Sam Kerr