From Leigh Sports Village - Chelsea are the first team to take points off Manchester United in the WSL this season after a clinical performance and goals from Sam Kerr, Lauren James and Erin Cuthbert saw them to a 3-1 victory on Sunday evening.
United had been well in the game for the first hour and pulled a goal back through Alessia Russo to make it 2-1 and potentially set up a grandstand finish, before Cuthbert’s third for Chelsea in stoppage time ended the contest.
Following a poignant silence and observation of the Last Post, kick-off was greeted with the outbreak of heavy rain on an already cold night. But it was a lively start and the first chance went to the hosts when Ella Toone’s deflected shot almost flummoxed Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger.
It was also clear that these were two teams prepared to give nothing away physically, with tackles flying in. Chelsea appealed for a penalty when Maya Le Tissier clipped Guro Reiten, while a several United players were on the end of crunching fouls.
Chelsea’s first sight of goal came around half an hour in when Mary Earps tipped a driven cross from Niamh Charles over the bar. In a spell of Chelsea pressure, Millie Bright had a shot blocked, while a Pernille Harder header that had Earps scrambling to her left went just wide.
The second half began with more of the same as both teams fought for every inch, which was making it difficult for either to create much. But United went close when Russo had a chance to stretch her legs, with a powerful cross almost turned in for an own goal by Bright.
Chelsea’s breakthrough goal was a gift. The Blues hadn’t looked like scoring since the restart but Millie Turner’s poor pass out of defence was easily intercepted by Sophie Ingle, who found Kerr before the United defence could react and fired low past Earps.
Chelsea’s second goal was just as clinical. Bright’s long ball down the flank bypassed midfield to find Kerr, whose low cross was expertly turned in first time by James on the edge of the box.
United’s goal subsequently lived a bit of charmed life as Chelsea attempted to turn the screw, although just as the visitors had been gifted the lead, they handed their opponents a way back into by cheaply losing the ball in their own half. Ella Toone picked up the slack pass and put Russo in on the goal, with the striker showing great composure to finish.
Fired up by the 6,186 fans in the stadium, a new club record at Leigh, United fought hard to draw level. But it wasn’t to be when Cuthbert scored a third clinical Chelsea goal at the death.
Man Utd vs Chelsea: Player ratings - WSL
1. Man Utd (4-3-3)
GK: Mary Earps - 6/10 - Beaten for the first time this season. Stood little chance with any of the goals.
RB: Hannah Blundell - 5/10 - Struggled with Reiten a few times.
CB: Maya Le Tissier - 6/10 - Looked confident and keen to impress, taking it to Chelsea's forwards physically - although perhaps lucky not to concede a first half penalty. Long passes down the sides were also key.
CB: Millie Turner - 5/10 - Defended pretty well in terms of headers and clearances but sometimes looked shaky on the ball and it was her poor pass that directly handed Chelsea their first goal.
LB: Maria Thorisdottir - 7/10 - Had her work cut out marking James but had done pretty well overall.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) - 6/10 - The frantic pace of the game made it difficult for her to get her foot on the ball and play.
CM: Hayley Ladd - 6/10 - Physical in midfield.
AM: Ella Toone - 7/10 - Sharp and busy, which helped her set up Russo to get United back into it.
RW: Nikita Parris - 6/10 - Had Eriksson at her mercy with pace but it wasn't an option United seemed to utilise enough.
ST: Alessia Russo - 7/10 - Looked more dangerous when she came inside or drifted wide because of the space to run. Marked her first start since returning from injury with a well taken goal.
LW: Leah Galton - 6/10 - Had a few dangerous moments but not in the game enough.
SUB: Lucy Staniforth (64' for Blundell) - 7/10
SUB: Martha Thomas (78' for Parris) - 6/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (79' for Russo) - 6/10
SUB: Adriana Leon (87' for Ladd) - N/A
Manager: Marc Skinner - 6/10 - The first hour was exactly what he would have wanted from his team. But a mistake let Chelsea ahead and he wasn't able to do enough to change it from the bench.
2. Chelsea (4-3-3)
GK: Ann-Katrin Berger - 6/10 - Looked a little uncomfortable more than once.
RB: Niamh Charles - 6/10 - Had Chelsea's first chance of the half with cross/shot from out wide. Escaped a yellow card.
CB: Kadeisha Buchanan - 6/10 - Confident when it came to charging out of defence with the ball.
CB: Millie Bright - 7/10 - As important with the ball as defensively. Created the second goal with a long pass down the left.
LB: Magdalena Eriksson (c) - 5/10 - Avoided a first half yellow card for a cynical foul on Parris.
CM: Erin Cuthbert - 7/10 - Worked furiously hard in midfield but won't be pleased with losing the ball that led to the United goal. Made up for her error by netting Chelsea's third, cutting inside and seeing a deflected effort fly into the net from the edge of the area.
CM: Sophie Ingle - 8/10 - Intercepted in the right place at the right time to feed Kerr to open the scoring. Made it difficult for United through the middle.
AM: Pernille Harder - 7/10 - Had freedom to take up all sorts of different positions between the lines and was a clear threat.
RF: Lauren James - 8/10 - Had been kept relatively under wraps in the first half but put Chelsea two up with a fine finish.
ST: Sam Kerr - 8/10 - Another who was pretty quiet until she popped up with a big goal, the first player to score against United in the WSL this season. Then assisted the Chelsea second.
LW: Guro Reiten - 7/10 - The most consistent threat of Chelsea's front players.
SUB: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (83' for Reiten) - N/A
SUB: Jess Carter (90+1' for James) - N/A
Manager: Paul Green - 6/10 - Setting up with a back four threatened to leave Eriksson exposed to pace out wide. But he stuck with it and was eventually rewarded by the clinical quality of his team.