Mon. Sep 28th, 2020

Man Utd

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Man Utd send message to WSL top three in Chelsea FC draw

3 min read

When Manchester United were paired with Chelsea in this Women’s Super League opener they could hardly have been given a more difficult game to begin the new campaign.

Chelsea had just won the Community Shield with a dominant win over Man City, and were coming to United as reigning champions and a world-class line up.

Before this tricky opener, manager Casey Stoney had outlined her intentions for United to add a more clinical, winning edge to their competitive performances the established WSL top three of Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal: “We knew that we could compete with the top three, but it’s a different thing competing with them and beating them and we didn’t have that last year.

“But now I feel like we’re in a much better place. We’re ready to challenge those teams and I suppose it will come with different challenges.”

Despite adding three new players this summer a look at the teamsheets highlighted the gap United still have to climb to reach that top three. New signing Ona Batlle was in at right-back, but there was no sign of recent additions Lucy Staniforth, Ivana Fuso and proven goalscorer Jess Sigsworth. United only had five substitutes compared to a Chelsea bench that included reputed women’s world-record signing Pernille Harder.

United started nervously, allowing the visitors to dictate play and apply the pressure. A long range shot from Katie Zelem and overhit cross from Leah Galton gave some encouragement of executing a game plan of pressuring the champions and catching them on the break.

Those initial nerves were disappearing with every challenge. United were urged on by vocal goalkeeper Mary Earps at an empty Leigh Sports Village and when Chelsea got sight of the goal Earps was equal to Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby.

So it was doubly deflating Chelsea struck with United settled. Kirby got free down the right and her low cross was turned in by Kerr. It should have been two minutes later, as Kerr was one-on-one with Earps, but somehow shot wide.

Ten minutes later, Kerr could only shoot straight at Earps from the same position, while Galton saw a looping header bounce back off the crossbar with the last touch of the first-half.

The message at the break will have been one of encouragement and United were more decisive in the final third after half-time. If they could be accused of poor decision-making in the first half they were far more persistent in the second. Ella Toone’s long-range effort was the most eye-catching of chances.

With so long between the curtailment of last season and this opener, fitness was always going to tell and the difference in depth between the sides was clear as Chelsea could afford to take of Ji So-Yun and Sam Kerr, two of their best players, with Erin Cuthbert and Beth England on for fresh legs.

England boss Phil Neville was watching on at Leigh Sports Village.

United introduced Jackie Groenen, Lauren James and Lotta Okvist, but the passes were becoming tired and Chelsea’s experience became crucial to the flow of the game. United were indebted to Earps, who produced two big saves when Chelsea looked to seal the game.

Two saves which became even more crucial when United equalised. It was Galton, energetic all game, who was in the right place to convert from five yards after good work on the right from the Dutch international Groenen. The shouts from the bench were to push for a winner, not hold onto a point. Chelsea’s response was to immediately bring on new signing Harder.

United, though, held on, despite a few anxious moments in their own box. It was a statement of intent against the champions, and a message to the rest of the WSL this side are not content with fourth.

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