By Jaime Spencer
Chelsea topped the WSL table after claiming a 1-0 win over title rivals Manchester United at Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Emma Hayes’ side are now clear favorites in the remaining title race, two points clear and a game in hand.
Sam Kerr scored the only goal of a match, the WSL’s biggest so far this season, which had fallen victim to the reduced BBC coverage which has dominated the headlines since Friday.
In the words of Marc Skinner, United failed to appear for the first 70 minutes and lost 2-0 in the reverse fixture in November. But there was a clear bite into 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 on goal looking for balls forward: Mary Earps lived up to it both times, with the last of the saves being an outstanding FIFA’s Best save.
The third time the Blues hit that long ball to Kerr, he made it count. Lauren James got the assist against her former club, finding space between centre-backs Millie Turner and Maya Le Tissier. Kerr did the rest, lifting the ball beyond reach or Earps into the far corner.
United come back to life a little more around the half hour mark. Firstly, Nikita Parris was adamant that she should have conceded a penalty after she appeared to have been clipped by Kadeisha Buchanan as she entered the box. Soon after, Alessia had her first significant other, but she hit it straight on Ann-Katrin Berger. Yet Chelsea were always dangerous and Earps soon got into trouble when Jessie Fleming’s speculative cross from deep ended up hitting the outside of the post and bouncing wide.
Another long ball from Kerr to chase down the left gave Chelsea their first chance of the second half. The Australian cleared Le Tissier and looked certain to double her side’s lead, only to then send the ball to the wrong side of the far post.
Chelsea’s creativity flattened on the hour as United entered the game again, passing the ball, via Russo and Ella Toone, to Leah Galton for half a chance. But Eve Perisset followed it all the way and shut it down.
Katie Zelem has Turner to thank for holding off Kerr with a last ditch, with the United captain cheaply giving up the ball in a dangerous position. By then, the visitors were still dominating possession but play had become patchy, which suited Chelsea more.
As the match entered the closing stages, Zelem had a free kick comfortably saved by Ann-Katrin Berger, while Melanie Leupolz squeezed in from a good position on the edge of the area. But Chelsea, as they have done so many times, kept the lead to take maximum points.
Chelsea player ratings (4-2-3-1)
PORT: Ann-Katrin Berger – 7/10 – She might have expected to do more, but she actually eased the pressure on her side late with some big statements.
RB: Eva Perita – 7/10 – He took a physical approach to marking Galton and it worked.
CB: Kadeisha Buchanan – 8/10 – Put on a huge defensive performance to choke Russo.
CB: Millie Bright (c) – 8/10 – He matched his central defense partner with major impact.
LB: Jess Carter – 10/7 – She shrugged off a blow to the head when hit by the ball in the first half. She has given a solid defensive account of herself.
CM: Melanie Leupolz – 6/10 – Second best physically in the early stages and missed a final chance to seal victory. But he held his own in a tough battle in midfield.
CM: Sophie Ingle – 7/10 – He sat deep and made it difficult for United to play between the lines.
RM: Lauren James – 6/10 – He managed a decent assist against his old club without seeing much of the ball overall.
AM: Jessie Fleming – 5/10 – He didn’t actually see much of the ball and lost more than half of his individual duels.
LM: Niamh Charles – 6/10 – He had to have his wits defensively to protect Carter from the double threat of Batlle and Parris.
ST: Sam Kerr – 10/7 – Denied by two good saves from Earps before showing his world-class ability with the sublime turn. I saw a good chance in the second half to miss the mark.
SUB: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (62′ for James) – 5/10
SUB: Magdalena Eriksson (75′ for Fleming) – 6/10
BELOW: Maren Mjelde (90+1′ for Charles) N/A
Emma Hayes – 8/10 – He dealt a major blow by losing Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert in the buildup. But it was a gritty and functional performance from her team to take the lead, while later she switched to three centre-backs to try and keep the lead.
Man Utd player ratings (4-3-3)
PORT: Mary Earps – 10/7 – He made two excellent 0-0 draws. He had little chance with the target.
RB: Ona Batlle – 7/10 – Another all action performance from both ends of the United star.
Credit card: Maya Le Tissier – 6/10 – He seemed to be struggling against Kerr’s movement and guild as Chelsea sent long forward passes. Improved in the second half.
CB: Millie Turner – 10/7 – She was caught under the ball with Kerr behind her for Chelsea’s breakthrough but later made a couple of important blocks to keep United inside.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 10/7 – He defended well against his former club.
CM: Hayley Ladd – 10/7 – She physically started the match and made sure Chelsea would never go through her.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 5/10 – He fought hard with the ball but was almost caught on the fly with a sloppy pass straight to Kerr in the second half.
AM: Ella Toone – 5/10 – Chelsea made it really difficult to play in centre, so his usual impact was limited and United took a different route in the last 20 minutes.
AD: Nikita Parris – 10/7 – She appeared to be cut into the penalty area in the first half, but her appeals were denied. Put in place a real hardworking defensive shift.
ST: Alessia Russo – 5/10 – She looked dangerous when she could occasionally get the ball off her feet and run. But she has struggled to escape the attention of Chelsea centre-backs.
LW: Leah Galton – 5/10 – He started brilliantly in the opening minutes but never saw enough of the ball to make his 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 performed better than they did in the reverse meet. Plan A wasn’t working, so he changed things up for the last 20 minutes to try and make a difference.
Player of the Match – Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea)
This article was originally posted on 90min.com as Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd: Player ratings as Blues grind lead in WSL title race.