Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United: Lauren James bags three against former club

Forced to continue their title fight without the injured Sam Kerr, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea welcomed Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Marc Skinner’s Red Devils were already seven points behind their hosts ahead of kickoff, and would look to close the gap in a close-fought encounter.

CHE: Hampton; Charles, Björn, Buchanan, Lawrence; Cuthbert, Leupolz; Reiten, James, Rytting Kaneryd; Fishel

MUN: Earps; Blundell, Turner, Le Tissier, Riviere; Ladd, Zelem; Galton, Toone, García; Geyse

A frenetic start to the match in West London saw Chelsea muster the better of the chances, soon taking the lead in just the fifth minute of play as Lauren James bundled home following a scramble inside the penalty area.

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The lead could have quickly been doubled as Guro Reiten burst down the left flank, if not for a vital interception from Jayde Riviere that saw the ball put behind for a corner. James sought to roll a ball towards the far post mere minutes later, and though it sailed out uncontested, Chelsea had certainly asserted their dominance in the opening stages of the match.

And while a speculative effort from Katie Zelem looked to be a glimpse of Manchester United’s quality, it was the Blues that continued to pose the more consistent goal threat – with Erin Cuthbert placing a thunderous effort wide of the target after fifteen minutes in the capital.

But as is often the case, James wasn’t content with just the one goal on her personal tally for the afternoon. The England international latched onto a pinpoint ball over the top from Nathalie Björn, dispatching a wondrous effort past Mary Earps with her first touch.

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The goals could have kept flowing had Niamh Charles hit the target after being on the receiving end of a well-placed cross from Melanie Leupolz, but there were also chances aplenty for the Red Devils at the other end of the pitch as they began to grow into the game.

Beating Björn in a 1v1 in the centre of the pitch, Geyse was able to dash out to the right flank and deliver a teasing cross into the box that forced a fine save from Hannah Hampton – and Lucia García also tested the England international soon after, delivering a strike straight into her arms.

But just two minutes before the interval, Manchester United halved the deficit through Hayley Ladd. Another fine cross from Geyse on the right side of the pitch saw García attempt a shot, and whilst her effort was blocked well by the home defence, the Welsh midfielder was able to bundle an effort over the line to prompt euphoric celebrations from the sizeable away crowd.

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Having required medical treatment in the opening minutes of the second half, Ella Toone found herself with a golden opportunity to restore parity for the Red Devils with just 52 minutes on the clock. The English midfielder, who was recently named in the FIFPRO World XI, took a little too long with her shot – allowing it to be hoofed clear by Björn.

Luck would seemingly not be on the Devils side in West London, as Marc Skinner’s side failed to capitalise on a number of fortuitous opportunities in the early stages of the half. A poor clearance from Hampton was squandered by Manchester United, before Toone was felled inside the area a few minutes later.

Having been denied a hat-trick by a fine block, James would seek to tee up a colleague from a well-worked set piece. Björn’s header, whilst seemingly destined to squeeze into the top-left corner, was palmed away by Earps.

The introduction of both Lisa Naalsund and Nikita Parris would add a spring into United’s step as they came close to restoring parity on a number of occasions – and Skinner’s anger on the touchline was visible as his side were denied a penalty after Parris was brought to the ground inside the box.

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But ultimately, the inevitable would strike – and a gifted goal in the 85th minute saw Lauren James complete a stunning hat-trick against her former club, bagging her 10th goal of the season. It would be the English international’s second WSL hat-trick of the season at Stamford Bridge, having achieved the feat against Liverpool too.

Naalsund looked to have caught Hampton off-guard when she unleashed a shot from the edge of the box deep in stoppage time, but the goalkeeper was able to make the save – albeit a rather unconvincing one to keep the Blues two-goal lead intact.

Manchester United’s next outing sees them make the short trip to Manchester City’s Joie Stadium on Wednesday for Conti Cup action, while Chelsea remain at Stamford Bridge to host Real Madrid in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.