women's fa cup final, may 14 2023
Chelsea won their third consecutive Women’s FA Cup, and their fifth overall, with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Manchester United in front of a world record 77,390 crowd at Wembley. The hat-trick of wins for Emma Hayes and her team looked a long way off when Leah Galton put the ball in the net for United after only 23 seconds, but the goal was ruled out for offside and Marc Skinner’s side was ultimately unable to capitalise on their consistent first-half superiority. They were duly made to pay midway through the second half, when Chelsea substitute Pernille Harder crossed for Sam Kerr – the recently named Football Writers’ Women’s Footballer of the Year – to slot home what proved the winner. The Australian has scored in all three of Chelsea’s FA Cup final victories since 2021, as the club became the first since Arsenal in 2008 to win three in a row.
“I’ve never coached a player like her," Hayes said of Kerr after the game. “A player that has such conviction, confidence and courage with the way she attacks everything. But what I love about Sam is that she’s willing to take responsibility at the top of the pitch.
“We played extraordinarily well the last two games, we started the game today and [general manager] Paul Green said that was the worst first half of FA Cup we’ve ever had, and he’s not wrong. So finding ways to win when you’re not at your best – for me, that is always the marker of a great team.”
SHOTS / ON TARGET
ATTACKS INTO AREA
EXPECTED GOALS (XG)
Emma Hayes set her Chelsea team up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Sam Kerr operating as a lone striker in front of Guro Reiten on the left, Lauren James on the right and Jessie Fleming as the number 10. Fleming initially drifted to the right inside channel; this allowed Reiten to move inside and provide Kerr with extra support, while also creating space for left-back Niamh Charles to overlap down that flank (below). If Manchester United right-back Ona Batlle followed Reiten inside, space also became available for Kerr to make runs in behind the back line. If Batlle held her position, Chelsea instead had a midfield box to dominate the ball and protect against any United counter-attacks.
Despite dominating possession in the first half, and building to halfway with relative ease, Chelsea struggled to break United’s block. The central midfielders grew frustrated and increasingly dropped to take the ball off their back line. With United then narrowing to remain compact across the pitch, space appeared around their midfield line. Chelsea could then access their wingers more frequently, as both James and Reiten started to hold their width – but they then lacked players in the pockets to connect from the front line, where Kerr’s stretching on the final shoulder created big gaps to receive in. The Chelsea wingers too often received under immediate pressure from their opposing full-backs (below) in wide areas. Whenever they moved inside, either with or without the ball, is when they carried their greatest threat.
After the interval, Chelsea managed to fill the inside channels with a more consistent presence. The central-midfield trio of Fleming, Erin Cuthbert and Melanie Leupolz rotated, as the team operated less with the double pivot of the first and attacked more with two number eights (below). Reiten moved inside from the left to support around Kerr, with Charles still moving forward from left-back. James also now had more support to combine and attack with more threat in the second period, with Chelsea now attacking well down both sides of the pitch.
Pernille Harder replaced Fleming in the number 10 position just before the hour, and her forward runs helped stretch the United back line. With Reiten still moving inside and James still isolating her opponent wide on the right, the whole United back four were now occupied by a more aggressive attacking unit. Cuthbert and Sophie Ingle, who replaced Leupolz, now became the double pivot and fed the front four as often as possible (below). This ultimately led to Harder getting in behind the United defence and crossing for Kerr to score the only goal of the game as Chelsea won their third Women’s FA Cup in a row.
For the first Women’s FA Cup final in their short history, Marc Skinner also set Manchester United up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Alessia Russo as the number nine. Ella Toone started as the number 10 behind her, with Leah Galton attacking from the left and Nikita Parris from the right. United mostly threatened on the counter-attack during the first half, with Toone key to these moments; she looked to find pockets of space to receive between the Chelsea lines, before driving forward and feeding the narrow front line. The wingers stayed inside, where they were ready to attack as soon as the double pivot of Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem collected both first and second balls in transition. Toone’s ability to receive on either side of Chelsea’s deepest pivot (below) helped United progress and limited Chelsea’s ability to counter-press and secure immediate midfield regains in the central third.
As United gradually increased their periods of possession in the first half, the front line rotated well. They looked to exploit the high positioning of Chelsea left-back Niamh Charles, with Parris dropping deeper to link with right-back Ona Batlle and Russo moving across to support in behind (below). Toone still looked to find space as the central number 10, and receive around Chelsea’s stretched central defence. With United progressing nicely down their right, left winger Galton moved inside to maintain the goal threat in place of Russo, while also creating more space for Toone to receive in the central pocket. United created the better chances in the first half, but were unable to find the breakthrough they possibly deserved.
United continued to threaten mostly down their right side in the second half, with Batlle joining the play with purposeful forward runs. As Russo moved even further across to the right – especially when Parris was involved deeper, possibly in the initial regain phase – Toone became United’s highest central attacker. Her ability to receive on the move helped United progress up the pitch, while constantly affecting the space in between Chelsea’s two central defenders (below). Galton gradually moved inside earlier, to play as another central attacker – but Toone was eventually moved to the right before being replaced, and United lost a significant amount of attacking rhythm as a result.
United ended the match in a very narrow 4-3-3 attacking shape (below). They also employed a much more direct approach to gain more attacking territory and put pressure on the Chelsea back line – which shifted to a back five as they tried to see out the game. In the moments prior to this defensive change, however, United had Galton, Russo and substitute Lucía García as a narrow front three to work off direct central balls against Chelsea’s back four. The condensed central-midfield trio supported directly underneath, landing on any second or third contacts to lock the ball into Chelsea’s half. Russo and Galton ran the channels with energy and purpose, helping pin back Chelsea’s full-backs. Despite the late surge, however, United just lacked the quality that Chelsea – and Kerr – showed inside the penalty area in key moments.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice