The two Blues went head-to-head today at Kingsmeadow, as WSL title holders Chelsea took on Manchester City. The last time these two teams played each other was at Wembley in the FA Cup final in front of a competition record crowd where Chelsea took the win in extra time. After both teams lost their first WSL game of the season last week, it was all to play for.
The starting line-ups saw both teams make three changes each. For Chelsea, Zecira Musovic, Niamh Charles and Sophie Ingle made way for Ann-Katrin Berger, Maren Mjelde and Jessie Fleming; for Manchester City, Demi Stokes, Filippa Angeldal and Esme Morgan made way for Kerstin Casparij, Leila Ouahabi and Deyna Castellanos.
Chelsea kicked off their title defence by creating several good chances for themselves within the first couple of minutes; Sam Kerr shooting wide and Fran Kirby being in front of Kerr’s ball after she’d taken advantage of City captain Steph Houghton’s weak back pass. Neither team-controlled possession as they usually like to and both teams were quite open.
Arguably, City had the slight edge putting Chelsea under more pressure in the first half, exerting dominance and high press over the game. City managed to steal possession back from Chelsea on several occasions and created chances for themselves – in particular Shaw made her presence known in the air and tried her luck from long range a couple of times. With Chelsea playing out from the back, they gave City the best chances in the first half and seemingly kept playing themselves into trouble. However, just before half time, a pacey Chelsea counterattack put the home team in front after Fran Kirby fired home a nimble low ball from Guro Reiten. With an added time of four minutes, Manchester City managed to keep a now overly confident Chelsea at bay.
Coming into the second half of the game, City started strong, manipulating the space in Chelsea’s backline well. However, after a hand ball by Leila Ouahabi and a powerful penalty from Maren Mjelde making the score 2-0, City struggled to regain control of the game. With Chelsea looking to break on almost every counterattack, City looked tired and incoherent in their efforts to stop them.
Lauren James was definitely one to watch in the game and no doubt impressed on-looking England manager Sarina Wiegman. James managed to weave her way through the Man City defence several times, asserting her physical strength to try a few shots of her own. Her tactility and control on the ball had me in awe.
After another four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half, the game finished 2-0 which means that hosts, Chelsea have now gone 11 WSL games unbeaten by Manchester City. Chelsea is always a threat on the counterattack and although City managed to deal with it on the most part today, when it came to the chances in the six-yard box, Chelsea was much more clinical and confident leading to their much-needed victory over their rivals.
Although still dealing with the loss of several key players in the summer transfer window – Lucy Bronze, Kiera Walsh, Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway – not to mention the notable absence of retirees Ellen White and Jill Scott, for City, the result will have been a worrying one. With Arsenal losing out on the WSL title last year by only one point, every point counts in this competition, and City are making a habit of dropping them. Although neither team looked their best, if City had a tactical plan in mind after conceding to Chelsea, it was not executed well. A usual confident and fiery side, City looked flustered.
A sold out Kingsmeadow definitely enjoyed their Sunday afternoon of football, the home crowd more so than the away fans. Chelsea managed to jump back into their winning ways, even with a less than impressive performance at times, but City have an upwards climb ahead of them if they want to be contenders for the title this year…