Sports writer Bella Shepherd-Evans reports on the top-of-the-table clash between Chelsea and Manchester United in the WSL
Marc Skinner’s Manchester United side travelled to Kingsmeadow for a top of the table WSL clash against Chelsea. Despite Chelsea having a game in hand, a win for United would have put them a comfortable three points clear. United have been clinging onto the number one spot since the Christmas break, and boast a squad brimming with the talent and confidence to challenge the very best this season.
During his time at the club, Skinner has laid the foundations and blueprints to make a WSL winning side, yet the clash with defending champions Chelsea was set to be their greatest test yet. United’s inexperience in challenging for titles shone through as Chelsea showed their guile to win.
Reeling from the Conti Cup Final loss the weekend prior, Emma Hayes’ squad came out strong, although it was United who dominated possession in the opening minutes of the game. The reds held a high line, marking their territory within chelsea’s half. This attacking strategy would be their downfall however, with a sublime long ball from Lauren James playing onto a run from Kerr. A nicely placed chip over Mary Earpes put the blues 1-0 up in the 22nd minute. Kerr’s ability to break past the back line would unnerve any side, as United scrambled to maintain the pressure they pursued before conceding.
A run from Nikita Parris on the right side almost saw her into the box unchallenged, until blues left back Kadeisha Buchanan came in for a challenge, taking Parris down inside the box. The reds were screaming from the sidelines for a penalty call, from which nothing came. This was also to be the fate for United’s Ona Batlle, who came up against Jess Carter in a hefty aerial challenge, seeing Battle thrown to the floor in the process. Once again, no penalty given.
In spite of two controversial calls from referee Cheryl Foster denying the visitors of two potential penalties, the reds managed to completely dominate the main phases of play, forcing Chelsea to rely heavily on the counterattack. Nonetheless, United came out of the game with 63% possession and yet nothing to show for it, aside from a few futile attempts. The partnership of Leah Galton and Ella Toone that Skinner has relied so heavily upon in previous games seemed to lack the energy and decisiveness to counter the defensive efforts of Chelsea’s Buchanan and Millie Bright.
In a game of such high stakes, having two controversial calls go in favour of the home side spelled frustration for Skinner, calling them ‘stone wall decisions’ in his eyes. He added the importance of investing in officials and officiating technology in the women’s game – with the presence of VAR Manchester united could have seen a very different result. Regardless, Chelsea looked reinvigorated following an underwhelming performance against Arsenal the week prior and now climb to the top of the table, with high ambitions for their fourth WSL title in a row.
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