Clinical Chelsea issue WSL title statement by scoring six at error-strewn Manchester United

·20 min read
Clinical Chelsea issue WSL title statement by scoring six at error-strewn Manchester United - PA
Clinical Chelsea issue WSL title statement by scoring six at error-strewn Manchester United - PA
  • Chelsea struck early after United's calamitous start

  • United fought back to 1-3 but visitors pulled away after break

  • First defeat of season for United who had won first two games

  • Arsenal put five past Man City without reply in late game to go top of table

Ominously for their title rivals, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes insisted her side can still get better, after they powered to an emphatic win away at Manchester United to end the hosts’ winning start to the Women’s Super League season.

Denmark forward Pernille Harder scored a tremendous solo goal as Hayes’ team struck six past an error-prone Manchester United defence - which gave the sloppy hosts a major reality check after starting their campaign with two wins from two under new head coach Marc Skinner.

Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby combined to assist each other three times, as Kirby reached 50 WSL goals, before substitutes Drew Spence and Jessie Fleming netted the fifth and sixth goals late on from close range as the visitors showed their superior class.

Yet Hayes still yearned for more, saying: “We can get better. I wasn’t pleased with the way we passed the ball, and the dressing room knows that. But we looked so dangerous going forward. Our front pressing in the first half was exceptional. Our spirit and our ambitions continue to grow and it was a performance that demonstrated that.”

The game’s finest moment saw player-of-the-match Harder collect the ball in her own half and use her pace to skip past Jackie Groenen and Maria Thorisdottir before classily clipping the ball over Mary Earps to net a glorious goal-of-the-month contender.

Hayes added of Harder: “Pernille has come into pre-season this year with an amazing attitude, approach and professionalism, she’s finding brilliant spaces, she puts in an unbelievable shift for the team, in and out of possession, and that goal is just rewards. The top players, like her, put in the most work to what they’re doing and I’m so happy for her.”

Harder’s solo effort was Chelsea’s second goal, but they had already been gifted their first inside two minutes when former Chelsea full-back Hannah Blundell’s loose pass allowed Kerr to lay the ball off for Kirby to open the scoring with the simplest of finishes.

The so-called ‘Kerrby' duo combined again seamlessly for Kerr’s first of the game shortly before half-time, and Kerr - despite appearing to be offside - poked in her second from a right-wing Kirby cross after half-time to make it 4-1.

Moments earlier, substitute Alessia Russo had pulled one back for the hosts with a strike that deflected in off England centre-half Millie Bright, but despite Russo’s injection of energy in the second half, Skinner’s team could do nothing to halt Chelsea’s late rampage.

Midfielder Spence fired in the fifth before Canada’s Fleming hooked in from close range in stoppage time, to the dismay of the vast majority of the 2,197 supporters at Leigh Sports Village, and the sheer delight of a small pocket of noisy travelling fans who had set off from south-west London at 6am.

The result will serve as a huge statement of intent from Hayes’ team, who were beaten 3-2 at Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season but have since scored 10 times in two games.

As for United, who finished fourth last term, this was their heaviest defeat since reforming a senior women’s side in 2018, but Skinner stressed they will learn from it.

“The result is the worst part, but actually the things that we will learn from this - and only time will show you that - are going to be huge. It’s such a huge learning experience for us,” said the former Birmingham City Women manager, who felt his side were “naive” at times.

“You win, lose and draw together. This shows the character of the group and allows me to identify who wants to come on this wonderful journey, and who won’t.”

Match details

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Earps; Blundell, Mannion, Thorisdottir, Batlle; Zelem, Groenen (Ladd, 66); Hanson, Staniforth (Russo, 45), Galton (Jones, 82); Toone

Subs not used: Harris, Risa, Fuso, Baggaley (gk)

Yellow cards: None

Chelsea (3-4-3): Berger; Bright, Carter, Ericsson; Charles (Andersson, 58), Ingle, Leupolz, Reiten (Fox, 79); Kirby (England, 78), Kerr (Spence, 84), Harder (Fleming, 78)

Subs not used: Music (gk), Nouwen, Ji, Telford (gk)

Yellow cards: None

Referee: Kirsty Dowle (Kent)

Attendance: 2,197

Arsenal sweep aside injury-hit Man City to go top

Arsenal 5 Manchester City 0

Rampant Arsenal hit five goals as they overpowered title rivals Manchester City to claim a seventh win from seven games in all competitions under new head coach Jonas Eidevall and take up the mantle as WSL' early-season leaders.

Kim Little scored twice for the in-form hosts, who were gifted Vivianne Miedema’s opening goal and saw Katie McCabe clinically blast in their third goal, before England’s Leah Williamson nodded in a fifth in second-half stoppage time to cap a memorable night for Eidevall’s team.

The defeat was the heaviest ever suffered by Manchester City Women as a professional team, and saw them lose three games in a row in all competitions for the first time since October 2019.

Man City head coach Gareth Taylor needs his players to rally quickly for Wednesday's Women's FA Cup quarter-final, saying: "I'm looking for a response, to see now who is giving us that positivity. We have to fight, and we will fight."

The result could become a symbolic one for Arsenal, who had lost all of their past four meetings with Manchester City by a 2-1 scoreline while enduring a poor head-to-head run against those around them at the top in the past two seasons.

Eidevall noted this after the game, saying: “We put some pressure on ourselves and said we needed to perform better against top teams. I’m really happy we’ve been able to turn that around, but we’re early on in the process - let’s not get carried away.”

Kim Little scored two of Arsenal's five goals - GETTY IMAGES
Kim Little scored two of Arsenal's five goals - GETTY IMAGES

This term, they appear to be a team transformed since Swedish coach Eidevall’s arrival, and they even gave a debut late on to United States legend Tobin Heath.

In truth, Arsenal could hardly have wished for a better time to face Manchester City, who are enduring an injury crisis. England stars Steph Houghton (achilles), Lucy Bronze (knee), Ellie Roebuck and Keira Walsh (both calf) remain out, as well as long-term absentee Chloe Kelly, plus Australia winger Hayley Raso (shoulder) and young England right-back Esme Morgan. And the visitors looked a shadow of the side that did the double over Arsenal in the WSL last term.

Australia’s Alanna Kennedy was at fault for the first goal when she played a wayward back pass towards the run of Beth Mead, who tackled goalkeeper Karima Taieb and squared the ball for Holland striker Miedema to rifle home.

The lively Little wriggled clear of Laura Coombs and fired in the second, with Taieb getting a hand to her strike but not being able to keep it out, while City struggled to create clear chances at the other end. The Republic of Ireland’s McCabe powered home the third after a quick break, before Little got her second from the penalty spot and Williamson headed in Lotte Wubben-Moy’s cross.

Eidevall felt the scoreline was slightly harsh on the visitors: “It’s a game between two good teams, we won very deservedly, but City also had chances. We had a lot of pace and a lot of quality to our attacking play. I think it was a fun game to watch.”

Eidevall's jubilant team sit top on goal-difference ahead of Tottenham, who also have nine points from a possible nine.

Match details

Arsenal (4-3-3): Zinsberger; Maritz, Williamson, Beattie (Wubben-Moy, 86), Catley; Little, Walti (Iwabuchi, 86) Maanum; Mead (Heath, 86), Miedema (Foord, 78), McCabe (Parris, 64)

Subs not used: Williams (gk), Patten, Nobbs, Schnaderbeck

Yellow cards: Maritz

Manchester City (4-3-3): Taieb; Stanway, Kennedy, Greenwood, Stokes; Losada (Scott, 77), Coombs (Angeldal, 55), Weir; Beckie (Park, 69), White, Hemp (Shaw, 70)

Subs not used: Mace, Keating (gk)

Yellow cards: Stokes

Referee: Jane Simms

Attendance: 2,061

As Man Utd v Chelsea happened:

01:40 PM

That's all from me...

But read Tom Garry's report for a full recap of today's events.

01:26 PM

Chelsea deserved to win...

But Man Utd gave them the platform with an error-strewn first half. Frustrating afternoon for the hosts.

01:24 PM

FULL-TIME: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 6

This has turned into a bit of a thumping - and United have themselves to blame. That is that.

01:22 PM

GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAL! (Fleming) Man Utd 1 Chelsea 6

Spence is played through on goal. Her one-on-one was saved but it lands at the feet of Fleming who strokes it home. Brutal for the home side.

01:20 PM

90 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 5

Harder is named player of the match - her solo goal was probably enough to earn that award alone. There will be four minutes of added time.

Hanson has stayed down after a tackle, clutching her calf.

01:19 PM

View from the ground

By Tom Garry, women's football reporter

"That's why we're champions", the away fans sing. This has been emphatic. The hosts' winning start is well and truly over.

01:18 PM

89 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 5

United should score! They break down the left and the ball is squared to Toone who hits it straight at the keeper from close range. She should have done better. The resulting corner is claimed by Berger once more.

01:17 PM

GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAL! (Spence) Man Utd 1 Chelsea 5

Fox rolls the ball to England in the box - she lays it off to Spence who buries the ball into the bottom corner. Clinical from the substitute!

01:16 PM

86 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

United win a free kick in a promising area. Zelem whips it into the box but Berger races off her line to claim it.

01:13 PM

84 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Fox finds some space down the right wing but her cross goes straight out.

Change for Chelsea; Spence on for Kerr - not hat-trick for the striker.

01:12 PM

82 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Another change for United; Jones on for Galton.

01:11 PM

80 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Berger punches a cross into the Chelsea box. United come again but a wild shot ends the attack.

01:08 PM

78 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Kerr slides Harder into the box but she forced to turn away from goal by some robust defending.

Triple change for Chelsea; England on for Kirby, Fox and Fleming also introduced to the action.

01:06 PM

76 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Chelsea are just stroking the ball around the park, happy to maintain possession. United win it back but the final ball once again is misdirected.

01:03 PM

View from the ground

By Tom Garry, women's football reporter

The Manchester United fans are chanting 'attack, attack, attack attack attack!' but surely this game is up. The home side simply haven't defended well enough today and they don't look like a side that kept 10 WSL clean sheets last season.

01:01 PM

71 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

United have been on top for the last 15 minutes or so - but they cannot find a second goal. Chelsea are, understandably, content to protect their lead and look to counter.

12:57 PM

68 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Russo turns away from her marker and hammers the ball into the bar! What a strike from the edge of the box. So close for the substitute who has looked lively since coming on.

12:56 PM

66 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Change for United; Ladd on for Groenen.

12:52 PM

63 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Zelem picks out Galton in the box but she cannot direct her free header into the back of the net. United need a goal sharpish if they are to get anything from the match.

12:51 PM

61 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Kerr is beaten to a cross in the United box, the ball falls to Kirby but her low shot is just wide of the post.

12:47 PM

58 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Groenen finds a pocket of space on the edge of the Chelsea box. She attempts to bend it into the top corner but the curve never arrives.

Toone then fires off a shot of her own but it is deflected into the hands of Berger. This is better from the home side.

Change for Chelsea; Andersson on for Charles.

12:45 PM

55 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Hanson breaks down the right but the pass towards her has just too much on it. United need to keep their heads here.

12:42 PM

GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAL! (Kerr) Man Utd 1 Chelsea 4

The comeback did not last long. Kirby plays a low cross into the box, Kerr fluffs it first time but it lands at her feet and she sticks it home! The replay shows she was offside, but no decision came and there is no Var.

12:40 PM

51 mins: Man Utd 1 Chelsea 3

Harder works some space on the edge of the box before releasing a shot which is deflected out for a corner. The initial ball in is headed clear. It eventually falls to Bright who hammers a shot from range but it goes over the bar.

12:39 PM

GOOOOOOOAAAAAAL! (Russo) Man Utd 1 Chelsea 3

It is Chelsea's turn to be sloppy at the back! They give the ball away and it falls to Russo who releases a shot. It takes a wicked deflection of Bright and trickles into the back of the net via the post.

Game on!

12:38 PM

48 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 3

Hanson spins her marker, breaking down the right wing. Space opens up in front of her but her cross goes straight to Berger.

12:37 PM

47 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 3

Reiten breaks down the left wing, she picks out Kirby in the box but the England international's header goes well wide.

12:35 PM

The second half is under way!

Can Man Utd mount a comeback? They have made one change - Russo on for Staniforth.

12:19 PM

United have been error-strewn - and Chelsea have capitalised

It has been a really poor showing from the home side who keep trying to play out from the back and keep getting picked off. It happened four times and led to two of Chelsea's goals.

12:18 PM

HALF-TIME: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 3

The corner is headed away. And that's the half.

12:16 PM

45 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 3

There will be two minutes of added time. Chelsea win a corner thanks to the hard work of Kerr.

12:16 PM

44 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 3

Staniforth fires a speculative shot well wide of the post. Desperation already.

12:13 PM

GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAL! (Kerr) Man Utd 0 Chelsea 3

I do not believe it. United give the ball away again in their own half. Kirby runs it into the box, squaring to Kerr who sticks it home.

The home side have been their own worst enemy today.

12:12 PM

41 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

United look a bit deflated since conceding their second. Chelsea are now well on top and look likely to get a third.

Kirby pinches the ball in United's half, rolling it to Kerr who hits a shot just wide first-time.

12:10 PM

Here is Harder's stunning solo effort

12:09 PM

38 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea win a corner after Reiten's cross is blocked behind. She takes the corner but it is headed clear. A second ball comes in from Kerr. She picks out Eriksson on the edge of the six-yard who volleys it over the bar.

Man Utd then get away with another error! They play out from the back, losing the ball in their own box but the resulting shot is blocked. That is the third time United have lost the ball in their own area - luckily they have only been punished once from their point of view.

12:06 PM

35 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea mount a rare attack, maintaining possession in the United half. A loose pass from Kerr ends a positive spell for Emma Hayes' side.

12:03 PM

32 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

A sloppy Chelsea clearance hands United the ball in opposition territory. They are forced back after some aggressive pressing by the visitors.

12:01 PM

30 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

United have been the better side for 25 minutes of this match, but they trail 2-0. They need to find a goal and fast.

Carter and Staniforth both go down after an accidental coming together. Both players are now up on their feet.

11:58 AM

27 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

United responded well to going behind initially - but can they do it again 2-0 down?

11:56 AM

GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAL! (Harder) Man Utd 0 Chelsea 2

What a solo goal! Harder picks up the ball in her own half, driving past three defenders that try to tackle her before dinking the ball over Earps who came flying off her line. Stunning goal - and against the run of play too!

11:54 AM

23 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

United are now dominating possession. Zelem looks to release Toone into the box but her pass is intercepted. They come again. This time Staniforth makes a smart run in behind but she cannot bring the ball down.

All the home side at this stage.

11:52 AM

20 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

Staniforth works some space and releases Hanson with a delightful through ball. The shot is taken on first time and is dragged just wide of the post.

11:50 AM

View from the ground

By Tom Garry, women's football reporter

Both sets of fans have been singing pretty much non-stop since kick-off, creating a decent atmosphere. Unusually for the WSL, we have what appears to be a designated away fans' section, with a group of Chelsea fans gathered high in the corner behind Ann-Katrin Berger's goal, in a separate block to the hosts, as is the norm in the men's game. That hardy bunch set off at 6am this morning by coach and they're by far the happier of the fans so far. The hosts look very shaky at the back.

11:47 AM

15 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

Man Utd are starting to gain a foothold in this match after that sloppy, sloppy start. They spread the ball around their midfield before switching the play to Zelem who cruises past her marker before delivering a low cross into the box. Nothing comes of the inviting delivery.

11:42 AM

11 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

Man Utd come again, winning a corner down the left hand side. Zelem puts the ball into a decent area but it is headed clear.

11:39 AM

8 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

The hosts mount their first attack, lofting a cross to the back post which just drifts over the cross bar.

11:36 AM

5 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

United could not have started any worse. They look rattled.

11:34 AM

GOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAL! (Kirby) Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1

United put it on a plate for Chelsea. The ball is passed straight to Kerr in the box, she squares it to Kirby who sticks it into an open net.

United have made two horrific blunders already - and Chelsea capitalise on the second occasion.

11:32 AM

1 mins: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Chelsea nearly score 20 seconds in! A sloppy pass from Earps falls to Kerr who rifles a low shot towards the bottom corner. A strong hand tips the ball around the post for a corner. The resulting set-piece is well dealt with by the hosts.

11:31 AM

Here we go!

Man Utd get us under way.

11:28 AM

The players are out onto the pitch

Kick-off is just two minutes away.

11:28 AM

We are going to have ideal playing conditions this afternoon

11:14 AM

Man Utd are a force to be reckoned with at home

Manchester United have won their last five home Women’s Super League games, their longest ever home winning run in the competition. They’ve scored 13 goals and shipped just once in this run.

11:06 AM

Steady crowd building and decent weather to boot

11:01 AM

Team news is in!

10:56 AM

Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport's live coverage of the WSL

Marc Skinner is relishing a big test as his Manchester United side prepare to host champions Chelsea today.

"It will be a really good challenge for us in terms of seeing where we're at, what can we do to the best team from last year in terms of the league," Skinner said.

"We have to be more consistent in every game. We've got to raise our game against everyone.

"I'm more interested in how we challenge our own mindset in these games than about what Chelsea will bring."

United have made an impressive start to the campaign, winning both their opening two matches. Emma Hayes' Chelsea, on the other hand, have already dropped three points due to their loss on the opening weekend of the competition.

In the week, Hayes told media that: "I’m never satisfied. I don’t think that will be different with any scoreline because you never have a perfect performance.

"I felt there were things we could do better [against Everton]. This team's got a lot of potential, and I expect a lot.

"We are in the position we are in because of the consistent habits and that’s what I would say is a strength of this team. It’s consistent in its performances."

Of today's opponents, Hayes added: "Manchester United have had a bright start.

"There have been some changes in their attacking play, and you can see Marc [Skinner] imprinting his style of play on the team.

"They’ve got quality throughout and a lot of internationals. They are at home and they will cause us as many problems as the top teams. They’ve got enough quality to do that, and I expect it to be a very close game."

Chelsea’s only other away WSL match against United ended in a draw - will we have the same outcome today?

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