Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea (Angeldahl 21′, Hemp 30′)
THE ACADEMY STADIUM — Maybe Manchester City’s apparent susceptibility to Chelsea wasn’t woven into the fabric of the club after all. After years of crushing defeats in a fixture where the frequent sense of optimism would undeniably be brought back down to earth as Sam Kerr turned the ball past Ellie Roebuck in her usual fashion, City finally seem to have cracked the code.
This was always the tipping point, the moment where title challenges began to stutter and the Manchester club’s campaign started its stumble towards yet another lacklustre finish.
Not any more. Prepare for the photo finish, the dog-eat-dog race for the top – a battle for Europe which for once is truly competitive.
Manchester City are back and have shaken off their early-season frailties. Sure, the losses of Keira Walsh, Lucy Bronze and Georgia Stanway have left a hole, but City have built around it to compose a new era.
Their statement began with a Chelsea error and that was the tale of the game. Chelsea were hesitant, their defence leggy, and the hosts grasped the opportunities handed to them with both hands to deliver their punishment.
Ann-Katrin Berger scuffed a goal-kick and it dropped to Filippa Angeldahl. She played a one-two with Lauren Hemp before lifting the ball over the head of the German, who moved little more than to crane her neck towards the sky and watch the flight of the Swede’s effort into the back of the net.
City were firing on all cylinders. Their passing was at its slickest, the movement of Hemp and Chloe Kelly on the wings leaving Chelsea’s haphazard defence overrun. Esme Morgan would draw the Chelsea defence out wide and the gaps inside would continually be exploited.
Chelsea just couldn’t get going. Perhaps a tough 90 minutes against perennial European victors Lyon in the Champions League on Wednesday night had left them tired, but Emma Hayes still would’ve expected better from a team who have clinched the Women’s Super League title at the last three times of asking.
Kerr scanned the City back line to find opportunities where she could peel off her marker and produce a scoring chance, but the provision just wasn’t there for the Australian.
City remained in the ascendency and soon found themselves two goals ahead. Chelsea floundered as they failed to clear a Kelly cross and Hemp was on hand to unleash a piledriver, teed up by Laura Coombs.
Hayes then made two first-half changes which looked little more than desperate. Off went Lauren James, who had at least shown some attacking spark in the opening exchanges, alongside midfielder Sophie Ingle. In their place came Niamh Charles and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd as they attempted to steady the ship.
At least they were able to do that. In the second half Chelsea improved and they regained their usual composure, but their better shape didn’t do anything to dent the scoreline.
As it stands
- Man Utd – P16, W12, D2, L2, PTS38, GD +33
- Man City – P16, W12, D2, L2, PTS38, GD +20
- Chelsea – P15, W12, D1, L2, PTS37, GD +25
- Arsenal – P15, W11, D2, L2, PTS35, GD +29
That Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who leads the WSL’s Golden Boot race with 15 so far this term, didn’t manage to add another to her tally for City may have come as a surprise, but Hayes’ changes did at least leave the hosts relatively muted in the final third.
Gareth Taylor’s side were happy to sit on their advantage, though, and eased off as they began more measured periods of attacking play. They quietly threaded it through the middle, but couldn’t add another goal.
That will be of little concern though, as three points puts City level on points with league-leaders Manchester United, though with a worse goal difference. Chelsea, a point behind, could reclaim the top spot with their game in hand.
City began their season with losses to Aston Villa and Chelsea after a summer of upheaval and appeared destined for failure in both their hopes of a title and even European qualification. Now, though, they’re in with a fighting chance with six games left.