Preview: Chelsea vs Manchester United

After the interruptions caused by the recent COVID postponements this weekend sees the return of a full fixture list and the biggest fixture of the weekend is the top of the table clash between Manchester United and Chelsea. 

Going into the game Manchester United sit top of the Women’s Super League, three points above Chelsea who still have that extra game in hand. 

While it’d be ludicrous to suggest that the WSL title could be won or lost today, a win on the road for Casey Stoney’s side could hand them a huge advantage in their quest for the title. 

It’s something that Stoney herself touch on, stating, “No one wins anything at half-time and it is the same here. We’re not picking up any trophies in January.”

The Manchester United manager goes into the game being named the WSL manager of the month. While my stand out performer for United this season, Leah Galton, picked up the player of the month award. Much deserved after a run of three league wins which culminated in a 6-1 victory over Bristol City on December 20th. 

Photos: @ChelseaFCW and @ManUtdWomen

A win for Emma Hayes’ side and they swap places, wrestling top spot away thanks to their superior goal difference, which currently stands at plus five goals. 

I was fortunate enough to be part of Emma Hayes’ press conference this week in which she discussed the game. She said, “Manchester United are hungry and ambitious, and hunger and ambition can take you a long way but so can experience.

“And yes we have the experience of being in those positions which carry weight but it’s a football match and as we know with football matches they are not predictable.

“There is quality on both sides so it’s about the big moments in the game, it’s about who takes their chances when they come and both teams have the quality to win the game. It will be a fascinating contest on that basis. The experienced champions versus the ambitious, hungry challengers.”

Due to the last season’s league being cancelled there was only the one meeting between the sides which ended in a 1-0 victory to Chelsea after a Maren Mjelde penalty. Their most recent meeting finished 1-1 on the opening weekend of the season. 

United are without Lotta Ökvist who has made the permanent move to Kopparbergs/Göteborg in Sweden. While Chelsea will be without Emily Murphy who has completed a move to Birmingham City until the end of the season. 

While there are also strong rumours that after the game Chelsea’s 27-year-old Norwegian international, Maria Thorisdóttir, will be moving from Chelsea to today’s opponents, Manchester United.  

Both coaches have been full of praise for each other with Hayes saying “She [Stoney] has done a great job to raise the profile of Manchester United and develop a group of players that is competing for titles. She is fast becoming a top manager.”

In return, Stoney stated, “I have to give Emma Hayes an awful lot of credit. She has been a very successful manager, has won a lot of trophies and has an incredible team at her disposal.”

While the pair undoubtedly have massive respect for each other, once the match begins the pair will be desperate for their side to finish victorious.

Photo: @ManUtdWomen

Both sides are in form but I can see this being a nervy game to begin with as neither side will look to hand the advantage to the other. Although with Chelsea being the home side the pressure will be on them to take the game to United and follow up their attacking form from their 5-0 win against Reading last weekend.

This is something Natalie Burrell from United’s Barmy Army agrees with, “The pressure is not on us, it’s all on Chelsea. We just need to concentrate on our own game and we know we can return to Manchester three points.”

I can see this game finishing a low scoring draw and if I were putting money on it then I’d go for another 1-1 draw between the sides. If either side is to pick up the win then I can see it being settled by an error or lapse in concentration being ruthlessly pounced upon by the likes of Heath, Galton, Kerr or Kirby. 

You can watch all the action live on BT Sport at 14:30 GMT. Our full match report will follow shortly afterwards.