Manchester City 0-3 Chelsea
By Ben Gilby
Above: Erin Cuthbert (22) celebrates with Guro Reiten after putting Chelsea 1-0 up in the FA Cup Semi-Final. Photo: Getty Images.
Chelsea profited from a dominant first-half performance to send Manchester City to their heaviest home defeat since 2014 in the FA Cup semi-final at the Academy Stadium.
In the fifth meeting between the two sides in the last seven seasons of the Women’s FA Cup, the ultimate difference on the day was Chelsea’s greater ability to take the chances that came their way, aided by two errors by Manchester City goalkeeper Karima Benameur Taieb.
City were still without ten players through injury and head coach Gareth Taylor was forced to name 16-year-old keeper Grace Pilling on a bench of five players compared to Chelsea’s nine.
Notably, for the defending champions, Lauren James was named in a matchday squad for the first time since joining the club in the summer from Manchester United, although Chelsea boss Emma Hayes indicated that she was not yet ready to play . Pernille Harder’s quad injury picked up during international action for Denmark kept her out of the line-up.
City, who had the benefit of a strong wind in their favour in the first half, made a solid start with Khadija Shaw and Ellen White combining well down the flanks, with Dutch international defender Aniek Nouwen doing well to keep alive to the danger for the visitors. However, Chelsea, backed by a large group of vocal supporters who could be heard throughout the afternoon, gained their first chance in the opening five minutes when Kerr found Fran Kirby in the box, but the Lionesses’ star’s header was well wide.
Lauren Hemp was in typically rampaging form, targeting runs at Jess Carter down the left. Just after the quarter-hour mark, the City flyer skipped past her Chelsea shadow and got a low ball in for Ellen White coming in at the near post in the six-yard box, but she hit her shot narrowly wide.
The South-West Londoners replied from a free kick on the right-hand side of the box after Demi Stokes felled Erin Cuthbert at the cost of a yellow card. The Scottish international floated in a free-kick which Nouwen nodded the wrong side of the far post.
Chelsea pressed on 22 minutes when Cuthbert combined with Melanie Leupolz on the right. The German international played an angled pass into the path of Kerr who, as she was about to shoot was denied by a superb tackle from Jill Scott.
The resulting corner came in directly to Cuthbert on the right-hand side of the box. The Scot took a touch, got away from Lauren Coombes, and smashed a shot that went through the raised hands of City keeper Karima Benameur Taieb.
Ultimately, the deciding moment of the game came five minutes later as Chelsea doubled their lead with Benameur Taieb culpable once more. The move began with a throw on the right from Carter. Cuthbert was involved before the ball found its way back to Leupolz in the ‘D’ who got between two markers and hit a low shot which Benameur Taieb got a hand to but the ball squirmed into the right-hand corner of the net.
Chelsea were rampant now and did not give the hosts a single second to settle on the ball and executed their relentless high press. The visitors had a penalty shout when Hemp had Carter by the arm as she advanced into the box and looked to tug the Chelsea midfielder down, but nothing was awarded.
With ten minutes to go before the break, Benameur Taieb redeemed herself when she denied Kerr after the Matildas star was played in with a beautifully angled pass from Kirby. Carter held back by Hemp
Kirby could have made things worse for City with six minutes to go in the half when she had all the time in the world at the left-hand post and a powerful effort was saved at point-blank fashion from Benameur Taieb.
City ended the half on the front foot. With three minutes to go before the break, Carter lost possession to Hemp who was fouled by Leupolz left of centre around 25 yards out from goal. Alex Greenwood played in the free-kick towards the back-post. Scott tried to side foot the ball across the box but Chelsea cleared, albeit awkwardly and it remained 2-0 at the break in the Londoners’ favour.
Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor looked to shake things up by changing to a 4-4-2 formation and also bringing on 20-year-old Jess Park for Shaw, who faded after a promising start.
Chelsea continued to press with Benaumeur Taieb called upon to stop Cuthbert whose fierce shot was denied from point-blank range after she was played in by Kirby.
Just before the hour mark, Kerr was replaced by Beth England. City forced a corner shortly afterward as Park was played in via a long ball from Greenwood down the right-hand side and forced Ann-Katrin Berger to palm an effort away. The resulting corner found Caroline Weir who played the ball back at the near post towards Hemp who lost Cuthbert, but put an effort well wide of the right-hand post.
Matters became increasingly scrappy through the middle period of the second half which favoured the visitors due to their lead on the scoreboard. Whilst Hemp continued to offer the most threat, City still lacked the creativity to unlock the Chelsea defence as too many of the home side’s attackers, notably Janine Beckie and White saw very little of the ball. With the hosts having limited numbers of the bench, their options to look for game changers were limited compared to the massed talent which included Beth England, Jessie Fleming, and Ji So-Yun on Chelsea’s substitute list.
In the final minute of regulation time, Chelsea put the icing on the cake with a third goal as Sophie Ingle found Fleming on the right-hand side. Her ball in found England in far too much space from a City perspective and the Barnsley-born star headed home.
Therefore, Chelsea were able to clinch their place at Wembley relatively comfortably at the end with Berger having fewer shots to save than she may have expected – but there was time for one outstanding stop in the final exchanges when she pushed Park’s rasping shot which was heading for the top left-hand corner onto the post.
With this being last season’s FA Cup competition, Chelsea are now just one win from clinching a domestic quadruple from 2020/21 as they look to add the final trophy to the cabinet which already contains the Barclays FA Women’s Super League, Conti Cup, and FA Community Shield.
As for City, whilst injuries are a big part of their current malaise, there are enough quality players across the team to be obtaining far better results than they have so far.
Teams: MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3): Benameur Taieb, Beckie, Scott, Greenwood, Stokes, Coombes, Walsh, Weir, Hemp, Shaw, White. Substitutes: Angeldahl, Raso, Park (for Shaw 46’), Losada (for Walsh 67’), Pilling (GK).
CHELSEA (3-4-3): Berger, Nouwen, Bright, Eriksson, Carter, Ingle, Leupolz, Reiten, Cuthbert, Kerr, Kirby. Substitutes: Musovic (GK), England (for Kerr 58’), Ji, Fleming (for Reiten 73’), James, Charles (for Kirby 79’), Spence (for Leupolz 73’), Andersson, Fox.
Scorers: Cuthbert 23’, Leupolz 28’, England ’89.
Referee: Rebecca Welch.