Ok, give me a second....
This match was supposed to be a tense, defensive top of the table battle, one of those where football translates to a professional reenactment of grade school kids on a muddy pitch huddling around the ball like a herd of elephants around their young. Midfields get clogged and defenders boot panic clearances into the stands anytime a ball leaks from the fray. They’re timid and edgy, but often end up equating to nothing more than glorified shoving matches that someone easily breaks up after reaching their breaking point for secondhand embarrassment.
This was absolutely none of that.
Though both teams started nervously, that did not stop either of them from mashing their foot on the accelerator right from the first whistle. This led to a Bethany England chance to put Chelsea up within seconds. Sam Kerr sent in a fizzing, bouncing cross that made its way through legs but England couldn’t react in time to catch up to it.
After that chance, both teams took turns sliding through the other’s midfield to try and work chances in the final third. Just about halfway through the half, the deadlock was duly broken when City’s Janine Beckie slid a low cross to Ellen White, whose instinctual run got to the ball before goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger. [‘22; 1-0]
Chelsea reacted well to the goal but also still allowed dangerous balls to be played into wide open spaces on their wings — this, unfortunately, would become a trend.
But six minutes before halftime, Ji So-yun settled a ball headed away from City’s box and fired it back in toward goal. It took a deflection via the head of a City defender, but was on target and just beyond the reach of City keeper Ellie Roebuck. [‘39; 1-1]
At halftime it were Chelsea who probably felt more relieved. City’s game plan had been working well, as they were absorbing Chelsea’s pressure and springing forward to fashion enough chances to be ahead. Chelsea, who had displayed some uncharacteristic sloppiness in and out of possession, needed to reach at least two higher gears.
The Blues spent the first 15 minutes of the second half trying to do just that. Even Chelsea’s lone non-attacking midfielder, Sophie Ingle, was attacking! However, when Ingle clipped in a cross from the right wing which was easily intercepted, nearly every Chelsea defender was caught out of position. City punted the ball into a giant patch of vacated grass which Georgia Stanway collected after Millie Bright’s last-ditch stretch proved futile. She was quickly 1-v-1 with Berger, and finished well near post. [‘60; 2-1]
But just eight minutes later, Chelsea center back and captain Magdalena Eriksson — with the help of a rare mistake by Ellie Roebuck — made up for the error as her close range header slipped through the keeper’s arms and into the net. [‘68; 2-2]
Two minutes after that City were back on the attack. A smart turn in the box used Sophie Ingle’s momentum against her, giving the referee no choice but to award a penalty once the City player went down from the contact. But Berger guessed right to deny Stanway her second in ten minutes.
And then, my god, Bethany England. I SAID OH MY GOD BETHANY ENGLAND.
The confidence to take that shot at that moment from that distance, and the power and technique to produce something that would beat the best goalkeeper in the world, AND with only a one-step runup? Bethany England is simply absurd. Chelsea, finally, had a lead. [‘74; 3-2]
But, you guessed it, it was short-lived. Two minutes after England’s stunner, Lauren Hemp reacted to a ball in the box with more vigor than Maren Mjelde and was able to get a leg in to poke the ball beyond Berger. Mjelde had a difficult task on the day but unfortunately it was not one of her better games. [‘76; 3-3]
Treatment for injuries to Gemma Bonner and Ellie Roebuck (twice), with the latter being stretchered off in the 97th minute, led to the final whistle being delayed until seconds into the 103rd minute. Though both teams tried to find winners, the match would end with a sharing of the points.
City thus become only the third team to draw with Chelsea and they break the Blues’ winning streak against title contenders (now 3-1-0). Most crucially for them, they remain at the top of the table — for now.
For unbeaten Chelsea, the point now means that winning our game in hand will put us two points ahead of City at the top of the table. Collecting maximum points against lesser competition will be vital to deciding who finishes ahead at the close of the 2019-20 FA WSL season.
From a neutral view, that was a remarkable showcase for the WSL. Top-tier talent all over the pitch, 102 minutes of play, six total goals, four in fourteen minutes, a saved penalty, and a 30-yard wonder-strike. It was a fascinating matchup that produced thrilling football.
And now I’m exhausted and am gonna go take a nap.