Chelsea go past Manchester City in the semi-finals of the FA Cup for women

It may have taken six years, but Chelsea have finally achieved a 90-minute victory at Manchester City’s home ground – we needed 120 minutes back in January in the League Cup quarter-finals for our first ever victory there. This time, the occasional (last season) Women’s FA Cup semi-final was postponed to this season due to the pandemic.

Meetings between these two clubs have tended to produce child-storming games and drama at the last minute, but that should not be the case in this one. City are in the middle of a serious injury crisis and had to dig deep into their ranks, where players filled unknown roles across the pitch in the 3-5-2 formation, which was a departure from their usual form in response to Chelsea’s 3. -4 -3. An interim three at the back consisted of Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes, both fullbacks, and midfielder Jill Scott. Lauren Hemp and Janine Beckie filled in as wingbacks. Ellen White and Bunny Shaw collaborated in front with a midfield trio of Caroline Weir, Keira Walsh and Laura Coombs rounding out the eleven.

Chelsea had to make some changes themselves when Pernille Harder was kept out so as not to risk injury. This meant that Cuthbert moved into the top three along with Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby, with Jess Carter moving to wingback to help tame the threat from Lauren Hemp, and Aniek Nouwen coming in to start in the middle of the three rear between Magda Eriksson and Millie Lyse. Melanie Leupolz and Sophie Ingle were the chosen midfield partnership, with Guro Reiten continuing to appear as the fluttering left wingback. This also opened the way for the surprising recording of Lauren James on the bench. As Hayes revealed earlier this week, James has undergone a lot of individual training to get over his injury problems and is finally ready to join the group during training and in games. While she was included in the match day squad, there were no minutes planned for her – for now.

Lineups

When City matched Chelsea’s form – Weir often pushed up with Hemp to turn their nominal 3-5-2 into a 3-4-3 – the first 10 minutes were pretty chaotic. Both teams were able to move forward and threaten on their left flanks, where Hemp and Weir won their individual duels and combined well for City, and Reiten, Kirby and Ingle made things tick for Chelsea. But in the next 10 minute period, City were able to equalize things in ball possession and threat, which successfully disrupted Chelsea’s build-up and regained ball possession high up on the pitch. Chelsea were put back and were unable to maintain ball possession or escape with quick breaks.

City created some dangerous situations: Weir ran in behind, but stumbled in his attempt to bring the ball down and shoot. Ellen White was put enough by Eriksson after Hemp came in behind Carter and found room for a post. When Chelsea came on the field, we were able to generate some good chances from set pieces and posts to create main chances, but Nouwen and Kirby did not manage to get them on goal.

When City pushed up, they left space that Cuthbert and Kerr used to full effect – Kerr in particular found a lot of joy on the right by making runs that spun outside the central defenses and ran into the space between Hemp and Stokes. Such a race led to the corner from which Chelsea broke the stalemate.

After watching Reece James unleash a pair of thunderbolts last Saturday and not wanting to be left out of the party, Cuthbert ran in from the edge of the field, collected a low Reiten corner and hit a sweet, sweet volley, which rocketed past City- the goalkeeper. at the nearest post. While Kerr, Kirby and Harder rightly get all the praise, Cuthbert has quietly made it a habit to be a difference in big games. She scored the first goal of the season in the league against Arsenal to equalize to 1-1, and she has scored crucial openers against Juventus and City. Her ability to hit the ball cleanly from range and put it on target adds another dimension to our attack.

After taking the lead, Chelsea seemed to come out of our shell. We now pushed and harassed City high up on the field with great effect and won several of our individual duels. We were also able to find vertical options. Nouwen in particular continues to show an ability to pick people out and break lines. The only potential danger was not to make this period of dominance count, and thanks to Leupolz we did not make that mistake.

Leupolz collected a loose ball at the top of the field and put his shoelaces through it with his left foot. The ball bounced in front of the goalkeeper and put himself down in the bottom corner. Even with the two-goal pillow completely blowing the wind out of City’s sails, Chelsea continued to push for yet another. A flurry of chances came to Chelsea in the final 15 minutes of the first half but we just weren’t able to find a third goal. Kerr, Kirby and Cuthbert all came very close, where Kirby found all sorts of spaces between the lines. Karima Taieb definitely got his team between the posts and prevented Chelsea from running away with it.

The interim City defense were particularly vulnerable during set pieces, as Chelsea were regularly able to make first contact with the ball. With the quality that Reiten and Cuthbert have in delivering the ball, it’s a surprise that we did not score through a corner or other set piece in this game.

As the half waited, City were able to get into the Chelsea half and cause some chaos, but the half ended without significant events.

Manchester City vs. Chelsea - Vitality Women's FA Cup - Semi-Final - Academy Stadium

Photo by Martin Rickett / PA Images via Getty Images


City changed their form back to the usual 4-3-3 for the second half by taking Bunny Shaw off and putting on Jess Park to play on the right wing. Ellen White moved into the center-forward role with Hemp pushed up to play as a proper winger. But this change did not bring them any more luck than they had before. While Hemp and Weir often combined well and posed a threat, they were unable to come up with the final ball.

Chelsea continued to create chances at a regular pace, crowding the City goal and keeping City at arm’s length. The ease with which Chelsea were able to navigate this match against rivals that had pushed us to the wire in both of the last two seasons was, to say the least, unexpected. Although much of it had to do with City’s injured missing – including the likes of Chloe Kelly, Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and Ellie Roebuck – no cup match is easy. If players lose concentration or lack intensity, even an exhausted team can hurt you, especially when you come after an international break.

Fortunately, Cuthbert’s goal had shifted the game’s momentum sharply in Chelsea’s favor, and we never looked back. This meant that the second half turned into a non-event, although Bethany England added a third for the sake of good order.

Chelsea also switched to a 4-3-3 later, calling it a day too early for people like Kerr, Kirby, Reiten and Leupolz, with England, Charles, Spence and Fleming coming to close the match. Substitute Fleming and Charles combined well and created situations where they were able to release each other behind the back line. In such a situation, Charles picked up the ball, kept it under pressure, and found Ingle, who released Fleming down the line with a wonderfully lowered pass. Fleming then formed a beautiful post, which England met with a ball head, leaving the goalkeeper without a chance. If the conclusion was not already given, then it was now.

Manchester City vs. Chelsea - Vitality Women's FA Cup semifinal

Photo by Alex Livesey / Getty Images

This match was by far the strongest and most comfortable for the back-three has looked, and the midfield combination of Ingle and Leupolz also worked quite well – although one wonders if it is because City did not have a striker whose pace could threaten U.S .

Nouwen continues to make a strong case for several minutes for every match that passes. She got into good positions when dealing with crosses, even though she still had some weak clearances and indecisive moments. None of these seem like problems that will not be solved with more playing time, and the more she adapts to her new role. Jess Carter, the player Nouwen is trying to displace, played as a wingback to handle Hemp’s industry and athletics, and although she had some strong moments ahead, her defense was much less confident. She lost on too many individual duels and it is no surprise that the whole City threat came down over her flank. While her pace allows her to recover, she needs to be stronger in her individual duels.

Cuthbert was named the player of the match and rightly so. Her perseverance combined with her wonderful technique and ability to keep the ball under intense pressure makes her particularly well-suited for games like this. Her ability to play multiple positions very well gives Hayes a lot of tactical flexibility. The positives she and Reiten bring as wingbacks make it worthwhile to try to make this formation work.

Chelsea can now look forward to a cup final on Sunday at Wembley against arch-rivals Arsenal on 5 December. This will give us a wonderful opportunity to avenge the loss on the opening day of the league, and serve as another benchmark for the development of the new defense and midfield, and most importantly, a chance to add another piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet!

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