Impetus’ coverage of the 2023 FA Cup Final is brought to you by Nathan Edwards from the Wembley press box with Ben Phillips‘ exclusive photography from pitchside (15/5/23)
Above: Match winner Sam Kerr with the FA Cup after the match yesterday. Photo: Ben Phillips for Impetus.
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
Sam Kerr continued to deliver in the vital moments to give Chelsea their third successive FA Cup title, as Emma Hayes praised this her side for their ability to dig out results no matter the circumstances.
Chelsea once again showed their experience to battle past a brave Manchester United side, who made their first-ever appearance at Wembley.
Despite Chelsea’s wealth of riches and trophies, it was United who started the game off on the front foot, and with just 23 seconds on the clock, looked to have taken the lead, only for Leah Galton’s prod to be ruled out for offside.
It set the theme for the first half, as Marc Skinner’s side battled through any pre-game nerves to put Chelsea on the back foot.
Their front four was fluid and enjoying their afternoon under the arches, with Nikita Parris cutting in from her opposed left flank, but struggled to move Ann-Katrin Berger.
For all their freedom, United struggled to break past Berger with the Chelsea shot-stopper even managing to stick out a hand to stop a deflected Russo shot.
United failed to punish Chelsea’s laboured first half, with boss Hayes quickly flexing her bench by bringing on the in-form Pernille Harder and Sophie Ingle who changed the game completely.
Away from the scoresheet, Ingle’s ability to starve United’s midfield was a key to Chelsea managing their lead. Harder’s influence came to combat the way United head coach Marc Skinner had set his side up – his plan was to to have a player always on Kerr, so when Harder came on, the space for the Danish striker allowed her to cause danger behind The Red Devils’ defence.
Her first chase in behind was easily defended, but the former Wolfsburg star was given another opportunity to punish, and she made no mistake. Harder raced away from the United pack and delivered a cross that was poked in by Kerr who notched her 10th goal in seven English club cup finals.
Similar to the semi-final, Kerr was managed well but once she netted her influence on the game grew. The Western Australian skipped away from Ona Batlle to set up Ingle, who buried her shot deep into a small section of the 77,390 record-breaking crowd.
After their first-half performance, Chelsea managed to battle through any physical strain and tiredness that would be bought on by a heavy schedule across three different competitions.
Speaking afterwards, Hayes praised her sides mentality saying: “I felt tired on the touchline. For that reason, it’s even more impressive. The team can dig and dig when we physically weren’t at our best.”
“It was hard. Manchester United made it so hard. They will continue to push, they are a wonderful football team. But this is a victory for grinding. Hard work for me matters, and we can absolutely roll our sleeves up with the best of them and hang in there.
“What the team has become is the most flexible team. Our team has become hybrid monsters. We can float between things in ways that takes years to master. They are so adaptable.
“When I have to sit at home alone and think about the work we do every day and the sacrifices we all make, I know I have given my whole life to it. No matter what, I have given it everything.
“I’m still the kid in Camden who has had an absolute ride of a time. I’m never tired of this. I can cry about it. I hope Chelsea fans had a little bit of joy. The whole club – the owners included.”
As for United, to reach this level in their short history speaks about the strength of the club and the desire that is within.
Red Devils boss Skinner believes that this FA Cup heartbreak will add to that, he said: “There will be loads to take away. We started well and, considering Chelsea had been in many finals, we looked like the team that had been in many finals too.
“We were composed. It’s a different type of game in a final and you have to play with more maturity. We love to play possession-based football and sometimes you can’t do that. So, I felt we matured today. If anybody thinks we’re going away, then we’re not,” he continued.
“These are moments you have to win. We gave a good account of ourselves. We will be back again, I have no doubts about that. There will always be regrets if you don’t win a game but I think the girls were excellent. It was their first final. I can’t look back and think negatively towards them.”
The final itself felt like it was more than a game. It felt like a moment where England women’s domestic game didn’t just move forward but broke down a barricade.
There has been a swell of support for the national team since 2019, but now the passion that has been shown to the Lionesses has taken over at the highest level of the club game, with this FA Cup final feeling like a huge marker of how big the game has grown and a catalyst for growth.
Also speaking afterwards was the FA’s head of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell. She said: “A lot of credit goes to all of the players and the clubs in the Barclays Women’s Super League, the Barclays Women’s Championship, and below that, but also credit to everybody that’s worked at the FA to make sure this is a reality.
“I’ve said before that we’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got an incredibly long way to go and we know that. But it’s another marker in the sand that the game in this country is now alive and well, flourishing and growing.”
Ben Phillips’ exclusive photo gallery from Wembley Stadium for Impetus:
Teams: CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Berger, Perisset, Mjelde, Eriksson, Charles, Leupolz, Cuthbert, James, Fleming, Reiten, Kerr. Substitutes used: Harder (for Fleming 57′), Ingle (for Leupolz 57′), Carter (for Charles 72′), Buchanan (for James 88′).
Scorer: Kerr 68′.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Earps, Batlle, Le Tissier, Turner, Blundell, Zelem, Ladd, Parris, Toone, Galton, Russo. Substitutes used: Williams (for Parris 61′), Garcia (for Blundell 79′), Mannion (for Toone 79′), Thomas (for Ladd 90+1′).
Referee: Emily Heaslip.