James delights as the Blues soar past a subpar United
Lauren James thrilled at Stamford Bridge as she put three past the Red Devils
21 January 2024
A Lauren James hat trick helped Chelsea ease past a below par Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on a chilly Sunday afternoon in West London.
The Chelsea Number 10 put the hosts two goals up with two excellent finishes, before Hayley Ladd dragged United back into the game, before James completed the scoring with her hat trick goal to seal the points and move Chelsea 10 points clear over their opponents.
Chelsea’s Emma Hayes handed Nathalie Bjorn her first Chelsea start, with Mia Fishel, Guro Reiten, Melanie Leupolz, Lauren James, Kadeisha Buchannan and Hannah Hampton all being handed starting berths after the FA Cup win last week. Manchester United only made one change from their cup clash, with Leah Galton coming in for Nikita Parris.
The Blues got this one underway in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Fishel providing the attacking option through the middle, with Guro Reiten, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Lauren James in behind the American forward.
United lined up in a similar shape, with Geyse leading the line, Zelem and Ladd holding the midfield and Toone, Garcia and Galton between the middle and forward.
Chelsea's captain for the day, Niamh Charles asserted herself early on, communicating with Reiten and Erin Cuthbert and putting in a very solid challenge on Geyse early on. Chelsea flew out of the blocks and were ahead within five minutes, courtesy of Lauren James. She initially broke forward before laying the ball off to Reiten, who prodded the ball into the path of Rytting Kaneryd before finding the Chelsea Number 10, who’s clever outside of the boot finish flew past Mary Earps in the United goal to give The Blues a dream start!
Jamres wasn’t hanging about in wanting to add to Chelsea’s lead and she combined with Reiten again before her left footed drive flew wide of Earps’ left hand post. United had their first forray forward just after the tenth minute, when Leah Galton fed the ball inside to Katie Zelem, who curled a left footed shot harmlessly over the Chelsea goal..
Chelsea were pressing relentlessly and sensed a second goal, with a surging run down the right hand side by Johanna Rytting Kaneryd not matched by the final ball, as her cross was cut out by the United defence.
Erin Cuthbert was next to try her luck, with the ball falling kindly to her on the edge of the box, but the Scot’s effort flew wide of the post. Chelsea’s dominance paid inside the first 25 minutes as they doubled their lead in some style. Nathalie Bjorn clipped a delightful ball over the top of the defence to Lauren James who strode onto the ball and smashed it past Mary Earps on the volley to ram home their dominance and give Chelsea that cushion their dominance deserved.
The hosts really should’ve had a third too, a delightful cross from Melanie Leupolz was met by the captain Niamh Charles at the back post, but she skewed her effort wide when she should’ve hit the target.
United called Hampton into action for the first time on the 35th minute, Geyse won the ball back after a Bjorn miskick and drove at the Chelsea backline before drilling a right footed effort goal ward which Hampton did well to palm away to safety.
Chelsea’s intensity was encapsulated in one passage of play, when Mia Fishel pressed Maya Le Tissier into passing the ball out of play and Guro Reiten’s hands immediately went up in applause towards her teammate in appreciation for her work.
Lucia Garcia was next to work Hampton in the Chelsea goal but her right footed effort lacked any power to trouble the Chelsea stopper. Three minutes before half time, United found themselves somehow back in the game. The ball seemed to bobble around the area for an eternity after a Geyse cutback, before Hayley Ladd smashed the loose ball home past a despairing Hampton to claw United back into the contest. Marc Skinners side had their tails up bow as the half ended and another tricky Geyse ball was well seen away by Bjorn at the back as we headed into three minutes of stoppage time in the first half, with all the noise coming from the away end and the Manchester Untied faithful.
Chelsea were actually the ones who had the final chance of the half, with Rytting Kaneryd striding onto a loose ball but her dipping, right footed volley fell wide of Earps’ left hand post.
Half Time - Chelsea 2-1 Manchester United
Hayley Ladd was the first name in the referee’s notebook, five minutes after half time for a cynical foul on Erin Cuthbert in the middle of the park.
Chelsea then had Ashley Lawerence to thank for preserving their lead, pulling out an unbelievable last ditch challenge on Ella Toone after the latter was threaded through by Geyse.
Toone then looked to turn provider for Lucia Garcia, but her header looped just wide of Hampton’s right hand post. Emma Hayes made the first change of the clash, withdrawing Mia Fishel in place of Sjoeke Nusken, which saw Lauren James move up front for the Blues. Hannah Hampton then showed why she was picked between the sticks for the hosts today, a mix up in the Chelsea back line allowed Hayley Ladd in, but her close range effort was saved superbly by Hampton and then away to safety,
The Lauren James box of tricks was then out in response to that, twisting Maya Le Tissier inside and out before seeing her low effort pawed wide by Earps in the United goal, with the resulting corner not amounting to anything for The Blues.
Leupolz then angled in a beautiful ball which was met by Reiten on the stretch, but the Norwegian couldn’t keep her effort down. Hayes’ side were pushing for a third and very nearly got it, Bjorn met James’ pinpoint cross with her header coming back off the list and behind.
Marc Skinner rolled his dice with just over 20 minutes to go, with Lucia Garcia and Hayley Ladd being withdrawn in place of Nikita Parris and Lisa Naalsund.
Chelsea so nearly added a third with a brilliant move, with Cuthbert finding the energetic Rytting Kaneryd, who combined with James but the Swede’s pulled ball across was cut out by the United defence.
The United bench were then furious after Leah Galton went down under challenge from Ashley Lawerence but referee, Abigail Byrne refuted any claims for a penalty kick, much to the frustration of Skinner and his coaching staff, then yielded a yellow card for Parris’ protestations about the incident.
Kadeisha Buchanan was then replaced by Jess Carter at the back for Chelsea, as Hayes looked to combat the fresh legs United had town on. Marc Skinner then turned to his late goal specialist, Rachel Williams as the game ticked into it’s final 10 minutes, bringing her on in place of Ella Toone. In the 84th minute,
Chelsea did have their third and James did have her hat trick, cooly slotting past Mary Earps, for her tenth of the season and surely wrap the points for the Blues. The hat trick hero was then withdrawn to a standing ovation in place of Fran Kirby as we ticked towards injury time. United didn’t give up the ghost however, as Lisa Naalsund curled an effort goal wards which had to be superbly kept out by Hampton in the Blues goal.
Chelsea were on the lookout for a late court room, with Kirby and Nusken combining, with the latter firing an effort over the bar in the games last action.
Full Time - Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United Chelsea - Lauren James 5’ 22’ 86’ Manchester United - Hayley Ladd 43’