United match Chelsea’s big names to of­fer top-three hope

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Total Football - Women’s Su­per League By Katie Why­att at Leigh Sports Vil­lage

The rate at which Chelsea have stock­piled su­per­stars over the sum­mer sug­gested they were in­tent on turn­ing this sea­son’s ti­tle race into a pro­ces­sion, but while there was much to ad­mire about their first-half per­for­mance against Manch­ester United, they will not, on this ev­i­dence, be the only one of these two clubs com­pet­ing for a Cham­pi­ons League place.

Such was United’s re­sponse, af­ter go­ing a goal down in the 25th minute through Sam Kerr’s slid­ing fin­ish at the far post, per­haps this is the sea­son they move from be­ing the best of the rest to a le­git­i­mate top-three side.

This marked their first point against the big three from their first two sea­sons in the Women’s Su­per League: how many more will they get if, as the ru­mours sug­gest, they make moves for Amer­i­can World

Cup win­ners Tobin Heath and Chris­ten Press be­fore the end of the win­dow?

Casey Stoney’s flicker of a smirk, when asked about the pair on BT Sport, was more telling than her an­swer. “All I can say is the win­dow’s open un­til the 10th, so we’ll have to wait and see,” the United man­ager said.

Their equaliser ar­rived via Leah Gal­ton, who peeled in front of Maren Mjelde to bury sub­sti­tute Jackie Groe­nen’s cross and set up a tense fi­nale. With non­cha­lance that would have been comic were it not so im­pres­sive, Chelsea re­sponded by sum­mon­ing off the bench last sea­son’s WSL player of the year and the world’s most ex­pen­sive fe­male player in Bethany Eng­land and Pernille Harder re­spec­tively. No other club in the league can ri­val Chelsea’s squad depth and Harder en­joyed a lively fi­nal 10 min­utes, but could only fire wide be­fore set­ting up Fran Kirby to stroke her vol­ley over in the last mo­ments.

“I got what I ex­pected from Man United: well or­gan­ised and dif­fi­cult to break down,” Emma Hayes, the Chelsea man­ager, said. “I thought we were poor by our stan­dards, but still had six chances to win the game. I’ll take the draw be­cause it’s a long sea­son and a lot of teams will come here and have a tough game.”

United – thanks largely to the in­tro­duc­tion of Hol­land’s Groe­nen – con­trolled the mid­field af­ter the break, and full­back Ona Batlle, who had spent the first half chas­ing the shad­ows of Kirby and Mjelde, gave as good as she got.

Kirby’s tackle by the goal-line on Gal­ton was tes­ta­ment to her firsthalf work rate and, since her re­turn from peri­cardi­tis, she has looked to be in the best shape of her ca­reer. She set up the opener, a smart ball clipped along the six-yard box for Kerr to skid on to be­hind Kirsty Smith, cre­ated by Mjelde’s ma­raud­ing run down the right.

Eng­land had pre­vi­ously looked to have the mak­ings of a strong part­ner­ship with Kerr but, hav­ing had an op­er­a­tion to her ap­pendix dur­ing the ex­tended off-sea­son, is slightly short of full fit­ness and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see who Hayes favours dur­ing the sea­son.

Kerr’s first-half per­for­mance demon­strated why it has been overly sim­plis­tic to mea­sure her con­tri­bu­tion to this Chelsea side solely by her lack of goals, and United goal­keeper Mary Earps earned her corn keep­ing out the Aus­tralian. Guro Reiten thought she had set up Kerr’s sec­ond, but the flag was up for off­side.

“The first half was a bit cagey from us,” Stoney said. “I think, sec­ond half, in the way we ap­plied our­selves and tried to ex­e­cute the plan, the play­ers were un­be­liev­able.” Manch­ester United(4-2-3-1) Earps; Batlle (Okvist 74), M Turner, McManus, Smith; Zelem, Ladd; Han­son (Groe­nen 53), Toone, Gal­ton; Ross (James 60). Subs Ram­sey (g), A Turner. Booked Okvist, Zelem.

Chelsea (4-3-3) Telford; Mjelde, Eriks­son, Bright, An­der­s­son (Carter 80); In­gle, Le­upolz, Ji (Cuth­bert 58); Kirby, Kerr (Eng­land 66), Reiten (Harder 80).

Subs Blun­dell, Flem­ing, Charles, Spence, Or­man (g). Ref­eree Re­becca Welch.

De­served: Leah Gal­ton cel­e­brates her equaliser with 11 min­utes left

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