Chelsea and Emma Hayes, like they so often do, got the key moments right as they won the Women’s FA Cup. Their uncanny ability to get the job done when it matters most is an ominous sign for United, as the two clubs prepare for a straight shootout for the WSL title.
United have made great strides this season and were the better side on Sunday, with winger Nikita Parris central to their threat. The decision of United boss Marc Skinner to replace Parris in the second half backfired and took the sting out of their attack.
In the opposite dugout, Hayes made a substitution that shifted the dynamic of the match in her side’s favour. Ineffective midfielders Melanie Leupolz and Jessie Fleming made way for Sophie Ingle and Pernille Harder, who only recently returned from five months out with a hamstring injury.
Ingle brought a calming presence in midfield and the introduction of Harder changed the game. She added a new dimension to the Chelsea attack and set up the winner with a moment of quality when she crossed for Sam Kerr to convert at the back post.
Chelsea lost the Continental Cup Final to Arsenal in March and were beaten by Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League, but on Sunday they showed they are still the team to beat domestically. Not at their best, they once again found a way to win.
“United were great on the day”, said Ingle. “I think our experience just showed. We’ve been in these situations before, when games are tough, but we just know how to win. I don’t know what the reasons are for that. Luckily, it fell our way.”
Chelsea are a point behind United in the WSL with a game in hand, and will win the title and secure the Double if they win their remaining three games. They travel to West Ham on Wednesday, have a huge clash with rivals Arsenal on Sunday, before a trip to Reading on the final day of the season.
While the men’s team cannot wait for a miserable season to end, the women continue to give the club something to smile about. “Our competition isn’t United; our competition is ourselves,” Chelsea substitute Jess Carter said about the WSL title race. “It’s in our hands, and our motivation will be even higher to go and get a second trophy.”