We use affiliate links. If you purchase something using one of these links, we may receive compensation or commission.
Chelsea have moved to the top of the WSL table after grinding out a 1-0 win over title rivals Manchester United at Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Emma Hayes side are now firm favourites in the remaining title race, with a two-point lead and a game in hand.
Sam Kerr scored the only goal of a game, the biggest of the WSL so far this season, which had fallen victim to the stripped back BBC coverage that has dominated headlines since Friday.
In the words of Marc Skinner, United didn’t turn up for the first 70 minutes and 2-0 down in the reverse meeting in November. But there was a clear bite in some early challenges as they tried to right that wrong and dominated the ball throughout.
Chelsea’s ruthlessness was a threat even early on. Twice in quick succession, Kerr was put through on goal by searching balls forward – Mary Earps was equal to it both times, with the latter of the saves an outstanding stop from FIFA’s Best.
The third time the Blues hit that long ball to Kerr, she made it count. Lauren James got the assist against her former club, finding the space between centre-backs Millie Turner and Maya Le Tissier. Kerr did the rest, lifting the ball over the reach or Earps into the far corner.
United back to life a little more around the half hour mark. First, Nikita Parris was adamant she should have had a penalty after it appeared she was clipped by Kadeisha Buchanan as she entered the box. Shortly after, Alessia had their first meaningful but hit it straight at Ann-Katrin Berger. Yet Chelsea were always dangerous and Earps was soon scrambling as Jessie Fleming’s speculative cross from deep ended up striking the outside of the post and bouncing wide.
Another long ball for Kerr to chase down the left gave Chelsea the first chance of the second half. The Australian eased Le Tissier out of the way and looked certain to double her team’s lead, only to then send the ball the wrong side of the far post.
Chelsea’s creativity had flattened by the hour mark as United came more into the game again, working the ball through, via Russo and Ella Toone, to Leah Galton for a half chance. But Eve Perisset tracked her all the way across and snuffed it out.
Katie Zelem had Turner to thank for keeping Kerr at bay with a last-ditch, with the United captain having cheaply given the ball away in a dangerous position. By then, the visitors were still dominating possession but the game had turned scrappy, which suited Chelsea more.
As the game entered the final stages, Zelem had a free-kick comfortably saved by Ann-Katrin Berger, while Melanie Leupolz blazed over from a good position at the edge of the penalty area. But Chelsea, as they have done so many times, preserved the lead to take maximum points.
GK: Ann-Katrin Berger – 7/10 – Would have expected more to do but actually relieved some pressure on her team late on with some important claims.
RB: Eve Perisset – 7/10 – Took a physical approach to marking Galton and it did work.
CB: Kadeisha Buchanan – 8/10 – Put in a huge defensive performance to stifle Russo.
CB: Millie Bright (c) – 8/10 – Matched her centre-back partner with a major impact.
LB: Jess Carter – 7/10 – Shook off a blow to the head when she was struck by the ball in the first half. Gave a solid defensive account of herself.
CM: Melanie Leupolz – 6/10 – Second best physically in the early stages and missed a late chance to seal the win. But held her own in a tough midfield battle.
CM: Sophie Ingle – 7/10 – Sat deep and made it difficult for United to play between the lines.
RM: Lauren James – 6/10 – Managed a decent assist against her old club without actually seeing very much of the ball overall.
AM: Jessie Fleming – 5/10 – Didn’t actually see much of the ball and lost more than half of her individual duels.
LM: Niamh Charles – 6/10 – Had to have her defensive wits about her to protect Carter from the double threat of Batlle and Parris.
ST: Sam Kerr – 7/10 – Denied by two good Earps saves before showcasing her world class ability with the sublime breakthrough. Saw a good second half chance miss the target.
SUB: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (62′ for James) – 5/10
SUB: Magdalena Eriksson (75′ for Fleming) – 6/10
SUB: Maren Mjelde (90+1′ for Charles) N/A
Emma Hayes – 8/10 – Dealt a huge blow by losing Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert in the build-up. But it was a gritty and functional performance from her team to get ahead, while she switched to three centre-backs later on try and preserve the lead.
GK: Mary Earps – 7/10 – Made two excellents at 0-0. Stood little chance with the goal.
RB: Ona Batlle – 7/10 – Another all-action performance at both ends from the United star.
CB: Maya Le Tissier – 6/10 – Seemed to struggle against the movement and guild of Kerr as Chelsea sent long passes forward. Improved in the second half.
CB: Millie Turner – 7/10 – Got caught under the ball with Kerr behind her for Chelsea’s breakthrough but later made a couple of important blocks to keep United in it.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 7/10 – Defended well against her former club.
CM: Hayley Ladd – 7/10 – Made a physical start to the game and ensured that Chelsea were never going to come through her.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 5/10 – Fought hard off the ball but was nearly caught out with a sloppy pass straight to Kerr in the second half.
AM: Ella Toone – 5/10 – Chelsea made it really difficult to play through the middle so her usual impact was limited and United went a different way in the final 20 minutes.
RW: Nikita Parris – 7/10 – Looked to be clipped in the penalty area in the first half but had her appeals waved away. Put in a real hard-working defensive shift.
ST: Alessia Russo – 5/10 – Looked dangerous when she was occasionally able to get the ball out of her feet and run. But she strugled to escape the attention of the Chelsea centre-backs.
LW: Leah Galton – 5/10 – Started brightly in the first few minutes but never saw enough of the ball to make her usual impact.
SUB: Martha Thomas (71′ for Galton) – 6/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (71′ for Toone) – 5/10
SUB: Aoife Mannion (82′ for Parris) – 6/10
SUB: Lucia Garcia (90′ for Ladd) – N/A
Marc Skinner – 6/10 – His team competed better than they did in the reverse fixture. Plan A wasn’t working, so he changed things up for the final 20 minutes to try and make the difference.
Player of the match – Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea)
For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter!