WSL: Chelsea v Manchester United
Chelsea remain unbeaten at Kingsmeadow as Sam Kerr's lone goal sends them to the top of the table
12 March 2023
Manchester United’s wretched record against Chelsea continued as The Blues came out victorious in this crucial clash at the top of the WSL. Sam Kerr’s first half goal, her 22nd of an incredible season was enough to separate the sides, with Chelsea undefeated in their nine matches against United, and two points clear at the top of the table, with a game in hand on the Red Devils.
Thus huge title clash brought about a plethora of changes for Chelsea from their last league outing, a 3-1 win over Brighton on Wednesday night. Ann Katrin-Berger, Niamh Charles, Lauren James, Eve Perisset and Sophie Ingle all returned to the starting eleven. The visitors, Manchester United by contrast, made one change from their last outing, the FA Cup win at Lewes last weekend, with Nikita Parris coming in for Martha Thomas.
United got the game underway at a packed, 3,277 strong crowd atnKingsmeadow with the sun starting to rear its head through the clouds in South West London. The game had the feel of a big one, with United’s vocal away support and the Chelsea fans making plenty of noise in the early stages.
Ella Toone had the first run of the game down the right channel, but her fellow Lioness, Mille Bright won the race and cleared the ball to safety. Lauren James, against her old side was the first Chelsea player to have a real go at her marker, but United’s left back, Millie Turner matched the actions of her namesake at the other end, tracking her runner superbly and winning possession back.
Chelsea settled into the game and had the first chance on nine minutes, a long ball forward found its way through to Sam Kerr who was looking to add to her 21 goals already this season, took her low right footed effort early which was well held by Mary Earps in the United goal. The Australian was then in on goal again barely two minutes later, excellent work from Niamh Charles to dispossess Nikita Parris, then finding Jessie Fleming in the middle of the park, who threaded a delightful ball through to Kerr, but her effort was once again kept out by an alert Mary Earps.
At the midway point of the first half, Kerr and Chelsea did get their breakthrough with the Australian’s 22nd goal of the season and it was a goal of really. She touched down a stunning long ball from Lauren James, beautifully before delightfully clipping the ball over the advancing Earps and into the far corner.
On half hour, the United players really felt they should’ve had a spot kick when Nikita Parris got in behind Kadeisha Buchanan and went down but the referee Cheryl Foster was unmoved by the appeals by those in United red. Alessia Russo then had their first shot at goal as she turned brilliantly in the box and unleashed a fierce effort towards goal but Ann-Katrin Berger held it well in the Chelsea goal. In the build up to that chance, Chelsea’s Melanie Leupolz was shown a yellow card by the referee after a string of fouls that had mounted up. United gained another free kick when Leah Galton was brought down by Eve Perisset. The in-swinging cross went deep towards the far post, Mille Turner climbed but couldn’t get any real contact or direction on her header to trouble Katrin Berger.
Katie Zelem then looped a shot high and wide over The Blues goal, in the last action of the half, with a big second 45 ahead for both sides in South West London.
HT - Chelsea 1-0 Man United
Chelsea got the second half underway with a lead to defend in this crucial encounter in the WSL title race. United came out of the blocks quicker though with Hayled Ladd and Zelem starting to dictate and pick up little pockets in the middle for the Red Devils. Chelsea were always dangerous though and broke away on 51 minutes, Kerr once again getting in down the channels after a long ball, but her right footed curling effort drifted wide of Mary Earps left hand post. Chelsea burst forward again, with Millie Bright striding forward, faking to shoot and playing the ball inside before the ball eventually found its way to Lauren James, but she scuffed her effort from the edge of the box.
United started to build up a head of steam as we approached the hour mark, with some neat interplay seeing the ball land at the feet of Alessia Russo but her effort was blocked by Bright. Emma Hayes was the first manager to shuffle her pack, bringing off Lauren James for one of Wednesday’s goal-scorers, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd. As the game ticked into the final half hour, United had another good chance, as Leah Galton found herself in some space in the area, but didn’t connect with her shot at all and it sailed wide.
Chelsea were next to stride forward as the game opened up, with Kerr darting in from the left channel, junking her way past defenders before seeing her right footed effort deflected away by Turner for a corner which came to nothing. Marc Skinner had a double roll of the dice with 19 minutes to go, with Ella Toone and Leah Galton being replaced by Rachel Williams and Martha Thomas in an attempt to haul United back into this. Jessie Fleming was then replaced by Magdalena Eriksson for Emma Hayes’ side.
With twelve minutes to go, a clumsy challenge by Perisset, barging into Rachel Willams brought United a free kick in a very promising position, but Katie Zelem’s effort lacked power and placement to trouble Katrin Berger. Chelsea really should’ve been out of sight with the very next attack, Rytting Kaneryd’s cross was misplaced by the United defence with the ball falling to Leupolz but her effort fizzed over the bar when everyone inside the stadium expected to see the net bulge. Niamh Charles then clipped a right footed effort in towards goal but it was easily held by Earps in the United goal as Chelsea looked to sew up the points.
Ticking ever closer to added time, it started to get frantic for United, with Ona Battle’s deep, deep cross an easy collection for Berger when she had bodies in the middle, Sam Kerr then lost her footing at the vital moment fro the hosts in another venture forward just as Hayley Ladd and Nilkita Parris were replaced by Aofie Mannion and Lucia Garcia for United and four added minutes were put up by the fourth official. Emma Hayes then brought off Niamh Charles, who had a really strong performance down the Chelsea left as she was replaced by Maren Mielde.
United then worked a quick free kick really well just inside the Chelsea half, clipping the ball into the middle, but synonymous of their day, lacked the cutting edge as it eluded everyone in Red and went out for a goal kick.
Chelsea stood firm and held on to claim a priceless three points in the title race, seeing them move two points clear of second placed United, with a game in hand o what felt like a pivotal afternoon in the WSL.
FT - Chelsea 1-0 Man United
Goals - Chelsea - Kerr 22’
Attendace - 3,277