Emma Hayes’ Chelsea overcame a resilient Manchester United side to reach their first FA Women’s Continental League Cup final after recording a 1-0 victory over The Red Devils at the Leigh Sports Village this evening.
It was a game of fine margins and it was just one solitary goal that proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Both sides had notable absentees. Chelsea were without Sam Kerr and Ji So-Yun as they had international commitments whereas United were without the likes of Leah Galton and Kirsty Hanson through injury whilst Ella Toone missed out because of the red card which she picked against Tottenham Hotspur.
It was a game of very few opportunities as both teams successfully neutralised their opponents’ attacking threats. The first clear sight of goal came when a Katie Zelem’s deep free-kick landed on the head of Abbie McManus but her glancing effort fell comfortable into the arms of Carly Telford in the Chelsea goal.
It was then Chelsea’s turn to test the opposition goalkeeper from a set piece. A free-kick was whipped into the area and Millie Bright latched onto the end of it but her powerful header was pushed onto the bar by Mary Earps. The subsequent goalmouth scramble caused a lot of panic in the United area but they were able to clear their lines and temporarily survive.
There was very little to separate the two teams going into the break and both sets of players looked frustrated with their lack of chances as they left the pitch.
Chelsea did eventually make the breakthrough midway through the second half when Erin Cuthbert’s dinked pass found Maren Mjelde. The Norwegian international controlled to ball superbly but the position looked too tight to beat Earps. However, Mjelde let fly from the narrow angle and the ball creeped just inside at the far post.
Almost straight from kick-off, United had a great chance to draw themselves level. Jackie Groenen slipped the ball through to Lauren James who found herself in behind the Chelsea defence. However, the teenager, who has been so prolific so far for United, fired her left foot effort over the bar.
United’s troubles worsened when centre-back McManus had to be assisted off the field by medical staff in the final 10 minutes after a collision with Erin Cuthbert. The home side continued to drive forward but struggled to create anything more than half-chances before the 90 minutes elapsed.
It was the kind of game that was going to be decided by an individual moment of quality and that turned out to be case as Mjelde’s thunderbolt proved to be the decider.
Chelsea will now face Arsenal at The City Ground in Nottingham on Saturday 29 February as they bid to become the first side other than The Gunners and Manchester City to lift the FA Women’s Continental League Cup trophy. For Manchester United, being knocked out of two cup competitions in the space of four days must be difficult to take and they will have to pick themselves up quickly as they have an away trip to Reading on Sunday.